Taipei launches 'muni VoIP'

With a huge municipal Wi-Fi network in place, Taiwanese city offers super-cheap mobile VoIP calling, and moves city government and schools to the new system

Building on its massive city-wide wireless network, Taipei last week launched a VoIP-based phone service called "Easy Call," the BBC reports. To use the system, users need mobile phones that can switch between using the Wi-Fi network and available cellular networks.

"If this is successful, then the model could be copied in cities elsewhere in the world," said Daniel Wongg, of the Taipei Computer Association.

"This is the world's first internet phone system using the whole city, rather than a spot, as a wireless operation environment," Mr Wongg told AFP news agency.

A key part of the initiative is switching city government communications over to VoIP-based services. The Taiwanese site reports:

As part of a commitment to promoting Taipei Easy Call, the city government has been replacing the public switched telephone network (PSTN) with the wireless VoIP service for all of its administrative units and all public middle and elementary schools around the city, according to a city government official. The replacement can save a great deal in the cost of voice communications, the official emphasized. In addition, IPOX is promoting Taipei Easy Call for business users, with six industry associations setting up demonstration systems for their members.

And schools are being moved over, too, the BBC says.

Before the end of August, hundreds of schools will be installed with an internet telephony system and 400,000 school children, parents and teachers will be encouraged to use the new system. The mayor of the city, Ma Ying-jeou, said that the money the city saves from using the new system in schools will help provide better lunches for students.

The blog VoIP Now suggests the move may apply even more pressure to the telcos.

American telcos could learn a thing or two from the Taipei WiFly/ EasyCall project. It's the collaboration of the city government and the Taipei Computer Association (TCA), and is overseen by several ITSPs (Internet Telephony Service Providers).

Traditional telcos should be thinking about modifying their offerings to become ITSPs and even collaborating with or buying out existing VoIP providers. Especially if other cities start thinking like the Taipei government, who are using wireless VoIP to replace their PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) for administrative offices and public schools. Their aim is to have 200,000 wireless VoIP phones by year's end.