The future of mobile calls is VoIP and video

The future of mobile calls is VoIP and video

Summary: With FaceTime going over cellular, Google+ Hangouts, Skype and other solutions, are the voice call's days numbered?

SHARE:

I've been doing a lot of traveling lately, and as a result, have been experiencing areas of the country with spotty coverage. To that end, I've been experimenting with video calling over Wi-Fi (see my Nexus 7 review) and even using Skype on my iPhone on AT&T's 3G network as an alternative to traditional voice calls.

I recently had two occasions to use Skype as a power-user while mobile. I specify "while mobile" since I'm a daily user of Skype on my laptop, both for Skype-to-Skype calls and for Skype-out, where I pay about $30 a year and can make unlimited calls to mobile and landlines in Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the United States.

The first occasion presented itself while I was riding in the passenger seat, on the way to a business meeting. I was on my iPhone and kept dropping the call. I finally suggested that we try to go Skype-to-Skype while mobile, and see if it was any better. If you've ever used Skype, you know that the call quality is immediately better, but the surprising part was that we not only were able to hold our call, without drop off, across two states, but we were also able to video conference, via Skype, iPhone-to-iPhone. This is important to note for two reasons. First, previous attempts to talk to someone across two states, without any drop-off, have never succeeded for me. Second, the video was streaming over AT&T's 3G network, and stayed consistent throughout the trip. I should also mention that it wasn't blotchy or loaded with digital artifacts--I could perfectly make out the face of the person I was speaking to. It was actually very close to the Wi-Fi Skype-to-Skype experience.

The second occasion for using Skype instead of cellular to make calls was when I was vacationing. We had spotty coverage in the condo, so to make calls from my mobile, I launched Skype and then initiated the Skype-out calls directly from my iPhone, while tethered to the condo's Wi-Fi. The Caller ID on my Skype account shows up as if I'm dialing from my mobile, so anyone receiving calls from me had no idea I was calling via Skype and not from AT&T's voice line. I also stepped outside of the condo, and hopped on AT&T's data network and initiated additional calls, when I couldn't seem to get a regular voice call through.

If you haven't been following the news, iOS 6 will allow FaceTime calls over a cellular network. This is big news because the carriers are going to be forced to offer video calls over their cellular network. Depending on the carrier, you'll either have this as a no-cost add-on (Sprint has already said that they're going to offer it at no additional charge) or you'll need to be on a special plan, like AT&T's Mobile Share data plan.

You could argue that carriers have already embraced video calls over their network, since you can do Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and others. However, these are all running on the traditional, un-throttled data network. You could see a future, starting with FaceTime, where the carrier prioritizes FaceTime calls and ensures better call quality, for a premium, of course.

With iOS 6 due in September, Microsoft controlling the future of Skype, and Google innovating with Hangouts, this is going to be a great space to watch. Regardless of the outcome, it's pretty clear that the lines between data and voice are blurring.

Topics: Google, Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility, AT&T, Wi-Fi

Joel Evans

About Joel Evans

With more than 15 years of mobile, Internet and wireless experience, Joel specializes in taking existing brands and technologies into the mobile and wireless space. Joel is currently the VP of Strategy Integration for Mobiquity, an enterprise-class mobile solutions provider.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

9 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • What about T-Mobile?

    I have not tried to make VoIP phone calls over T-Mobile's 3G/4G network. My phone connects to Asterisk server via CSipSimple.
    Grayson Peddie
    • T-Mobile

      I use skype on my Tmobile's Nokia 710. The calls are crystal clear. I use skype-out. I like it and I use it a lot and I rarely use tmobile minutes.

      btw I love Nokia 710.
      liberalrepublican
  • Alternative to Skype Out = SIP Phone app

    For less frequent need need of calling long distance & international. Pure VoIP may be cheaper (pay as you go). I use Linphone for Android, free and has convenient options to test several SIP profiles (each account can be disabled, can select network). Select a reputable VoIP provider, recommended "VoIP.ms" (that's their name). I don't know if Skype can allow simultaneous usage of the same account. All our family use the same VoIP.ms account, even simultaneous calls, inbound/outbound.

    If you can afford to wait until you have WiFi in reach, you can make phone calls, especially Long Distance & International calls using VoIP. This won't even use your mobile network. VoIP will help to save your phone bill significantly if you have a limited plan.
    RelaxWalk
  • VoIP

    VoIP is definitely set to take over calling. 90% of people don't have land lines anymore, now cell lines are the next to go. People will just have 3G/4G and each pick a VoIP they like.

    I think the same will happen with TV soon too. Cable/satellite TV are a ripoff, and will disappear soon. Hulu, Amazon prime, etc will take their places.
    theoilman
    • another thing

      VoIP is really perfect for the traveler, especially for an international business traveler. If you want to use your home cell phone in another country, using your regular number, not a new SIM you picked up in the country, the cost is through the roof. My father was traveling in Europe and wanted to use his regular phone number for business calls, so his business partners would be able to see his regular number calling them and be able to call him at his regular number. for just two weeks of travel it cost him several hundred dollars. And because he has his own business, he doesn't have a big corporation to pick up the tab for him.

      On the other hand, when I was traveling in Europe for the past month I could still use my regular phone number- because I use a google voice phone number. I could have a local SIM card in my phone, so 3G was very inexpensive. I could call anyone back in the states for free, and I could call my friends in Europe for just a few cents per minute. it's really the perfect answer for international travel.
      theoilman
  • Let me know

    When any of those products have sound quality matching my land line and when all those services are available everywhere, because currently they aren't and I have used voip and call quality isn't better than my land line and cell phone call quality may well be the worst of all.

    This is like the people that say fax isn't useful and should just go away, some of you people live in a little fantasy world that makes you think everything new is always better, well it isn't.
    hopp64
    • grooveIP and google voice

      has given me call quality equal to a land line. I'm sure other services give as good call quality as well. and frankly I don't think land line calls are any better than the average cell phone call in quality.

      as for fax, some people want it for extra security. I can understand that. but there is no advantage for ease of use or image quality from a fax over emailing a PDF.
      theoilman
  • "While Mobile" ≠ "Laptop"

    Interesting inequality there.
    ldo17
  • Cellular video calls nothing new

    When 3G was first launched, video calling was touted as one of the main reason why you should move from 2G to 3G, others being streaming media and usb mobile broadband modems. Of course, the 3G video calling phones used back then have nothing on today's smartphones but video calling on a cell phone is nothing new. Apple just has this innate talent for taking old forgotten technology that no one knows or cares about anymore, invented by someone else, dressing it up, reintroducing it to the public and it being treated like this huge innovation.
    TheWolfHowling