Leeds-based telecoms provider Aql on Monday launched a service allowing Nokia E-Series users to make free VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls to other VoIP users over a Wi-Fi connection.
The offer is designed to get users interested in Aql's other, paid services, such as calls to conventional landlines (from 1p per minute) or mobile numbers (from 8p per minute).
Aql is one of a number of providers looking to take advantage of the growing interest in making low-cost or free VoIP calls over Wi-Fi-enabled handsets. In July, for instance, VoIP service Skype told ZDNet UK it expects to see handsets with GSM, Wi-Fi and the Skype client on the market by the end of the year. In July, Skype-enabled Wi-Fi-only handsets were launched by Belkin, Edge-Core, Netgear and SMC.
Ultimately the goal is to be able to switch calls between Wi-Fi and GSM networks mid-call, a technique called Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC). Handsets such as Nokia's 6136 and Samsung's SGH-T709 approach FMC using the UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) standard, but are still emerging onto the market. Operators such as T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone are said to be planning to launch FMC handsets.
In the meantime, handsets such as Nokia's E-Series — the E60, E61 and E70 — offer the ability to make either Wi-Fi/VoIP or GSM calls. "It is ideal for frequent travellers, for example, as there are no roaming charges," said Aql managing director Dr Adam Beaumont in a statement. "Since most good hotels now offer Wi-Fi connectivity, mobile users will have the potential to call home free of charge from wherever they are in the world."
Aql displays the user's actual GSM number on outbound Wi-Fi calls, the company said. Users can buy credit from Aql's Web site or via text message, in order to make calls to standard mobile and landlines.
Beaumont told ZDNet UK that some Wi-Fi access points may need configuration changes before the service will work, but he said users should be able to make and receive calls via most corporate access points with no problems.
"The free offer is simply intended to prove that Wi-Fi VoIP calling can deliver an excellent mobile service, with the ability to run alongside GSM for whenever callers are outside a wireless hot spot," stated Beaumont.