Web Technology Cuts Mobile Calling Fees
BOSTON (Reuters) - The cost of talking on the go is coming down, thanks to an increasing number of options for using Internet calling services on mobile phones as an alternative to traditional cellular service plans.
Nokia is one of the biggest makers of mobile phones with Wi-Fi chips. Some high-profile devices are equipped with the short-range wireless technology, including Apple Inc's iPhone and some BlackBerry models from Research in Motion Ltd.
The soon-to-be-released G1 Google phone from HTC Corp and T-Mobile also sports a Wi-Fi chip.
For Mark Laris, a Dallas-based nuclear engineer who travels the world running his consulting business, the technology saves him thousands of dollars a year on international phone bills.
Wi-Fi chips and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, let him do most of his business and personal calls over cut-rate phone services that work over the Web. His only mobile phone bill is a 1,400-minute-per-month family plan from AT&T that he shares with a business partner.
"I always make VoIP calls," he says, adding that the call quality is as good as a traditional mobile phone service.
He accesses the VoIP services using a Nokia phone loaded with a Wi-Fi chip similar to ones that that allow laptops to access the Web in smaller venues like coffee shops.
The new phones are capable of operating just on Wi-Fi -- they don't necessarily have to use a mobile phone carrier at all -- and when you're not in a Wi-Fi "hot spot" they ring through to your Wi-Fi carrier's voice mail.
Still, mobile VoIP is a fledgling field.
In the United States, Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile sells Wi-Fi phones and Internet calling plans for $10 per month on top of regular fees. It is the only U.S. carrier with such a package.
Otherwise the market is filled with small, privately held companies hoping to make a name for themselves. They include DeFi Mobile (http://www.defimobile.com), Fring (http://www.fring.com), Gizmo5 (http://www.gizmo5.com), Sipgate (http://www.sipgate.co.uk) and Truphone (http://www.truphone.com).
TAKING ON SKYPE
One advantage that these new companies have in competing with established VoIP services such as eBay's Skype and Vonage is that old-style Internet calling required users to be sitting in front of a computer or hooked up to a laptop to make calls.
Mobile handsets with Wi-Fi chips free them from their PCs.
Ivan Domaniewicz, a commercial airline pilot with homes in Miami and Barcelona, recently switched to DeFi Mobile from eBay's Skype VoIP service. His $40-per-month DeFi plan gives him unlimited Internet calls, voice mail and phone numbers in Argentina and Spain that ring through to his Nokia handset.
"It's really helped me keep in touch with my family and friends in Argentina and Spain," said Domaniewicz, who shuttles between the United States, Japan, Europe and the South Pacific.
"What's nice is that I don't have to take my computer out and start Skype-ing to talk to them. I just turn on my phone," he said.
Jeb Brilliant, an event planner from Long Beach, California, cut his monthly AT&T plan down to 700 minutes from a more expensive unlimited access plan after he got comfortable using mobile VoIP.
He uses Truphone, which charges 6 cents per minute to call landlines in most countries and 30 cents a minute to call mobile numbers. It also sells bundles of minutes that are discounted over its a la carte rates.
Brilliant has tried other mobile VoIP services as well and says that the technology can sometimes prove more reliable than cell phone service. When a family friend recently went into labor, he found himself making phone calls via the hospital's WiFi network.
"You can get it (VoIP) in places where there is no cell phone reception," he said.
(Editing by Brian Moss)