VoIP: Not just about free calls

While price is the main attraction for Europeans, Americans are interested in wireless VoIP because it helps them cope with patchy GSM coverage, says one vendor

There is a transatlantic split over attitudes to wireless VoIP services, according to one Dublin-based VoIP operator which believes that Europeans and Americans are both keen, but for different reasons.

Ross Brennan, chief executive of wireless VoIP specialist Cicero Networks, said on Wednesday that in Europe people are being attracted to wireless VoIP because it lets them save money compared to making a standard mobile phone call. In America, though, the appeal is that wireless VoIP can let users make calls in places where GSM coverage is patchy but a Wi-Fi network is available.

"In the US it's not about routing voice on a more cost-effective basis but from a coverage perspective. But for a European, it's all about price and not having to pay the fees," said Brennan, speaking at the Wireless LAN Event in London.

Wireless VoIP enables people to make phone calls across the Internet using a Wi-Fi connection. While the technology is still in its infancy, some people are now running VoIP applications, such as Skype, on smartphones. BT is developing a converged mobile device called the Bluephone, which it hopes will eventually handle calls over Wi-Fi, GSM and Bluetooth.

Brennan argued that people shouldn't necessarily get VoIP services for free just because it can be cheaper for an operator to offer a VoIP call than a regular phone call.

"[VoIP] is a technology — it's not something that should be associated with free telephony. There're lots of options and savings to be made for the operator and the subscriber. What you need is to be able to do is access the hotspot and not pay anything until you receive a call."

Brennan also said that established operators are responding to the challenge posed by companies offering wireless VoIP services.

"Voice operators seem to be the ones who are least excited about moving voice away from their networks — they acknowledge that wireless is the future and they are terrified," said Brennan. "But the fixed line operators are starting to strike back. They need to do something in the mobility space."

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