IPhone and Freedom of (VoIP) Speech

As the 3G iPhone Saga continues to unfold, I find myself wondering less "who's in charge" and more "is anyone in charge?"

With 3rd party iPhone applications now all the rage, one group that's emerging are offerings from VoIP providers. Those would be the guys who want you to make a VoIP call instead of a call over AT&T's 3G cell network, which is the only US network where iPhone currently works.

AT&T isn't too worried though, according to Dan Frommer at "Silicon Valley Insider." One reason, he says, is that Apple will only approve iPhone apps that make VoIP calls over a Wi-Fi connection, not over the cell network. (Frommer may not be correct, though: more on this in a moment.)

Interesting model: instead of hunting for an old payphone to make a call, you have to hunt for a Wi-Fi access point to make a call.

The main reason for AT&T's equilibrium, Frommer says, is that it's already locked iPhone users into 2-year service plans with bundles of the domestic calling minutes you're already planning to use. "The worst that could happen: You bump your calling plan down to a cheaper one," Frommer writes.

I think he meant "the best that could happen." Frommer doesn't seem to think such a change is a big deal, but I'd really be interested in seeing if anything like that actually happens: users opting for minimum plans because 1) they do plan to make VoIP calls and 2)they want the iPhone mainly for mobile Web surfing and related stuff -- data.

Frommer only names the Truphone application as available on Apples App Store for iPhone. But Robert Poe, writing for VoIP News, lists serveral more (though one is awaiting Apple approval and a second is in beta), and takes note of the tradeoffs that the applications impose.

On Poe's list are: 8x8, Inc.'s Packet8, JAJAH's JAJAH.Mobile Web and iCall's beta iCall for the iPhone application.

Poe has a trove of information -- Truphone in iPhone works only over Wi-Fi, not over celluar as does its recently introduced Truphone Anywhere; Packet8 does use the cellular net, but the call is set up through an awkward back and forth via a Web portal because Apple doesn't let 3rd parties access the iPhone Dialer directly; and JAJAH, still awaiting Apple's clearance to be posted on AppStore, promises multiple connection options.

iCall will be able to move voice call seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

And speaking of Wi-Fi...AT&T claims one of the world's biggest Wi-Fi networks (through various partners) and has promised to offer free Wi-Fi service to iPhone users (given the price of the service plans the word "sop" comes to mind).

But AT&T won't say when. CRN's Jennifer Lawinski picked up on the fact that AT&T posted on its Website today (7-18-08) an announcement that "now" iPhone users could have free Wi-Fi access.

But within hours the posting had been removed and a spokesman was quoted as saying the company was not announcing the service. Even as he also said the company recognized it was a "real differentiator for AT&T."

Not if no one can use it.....

This story, "IPhone and Freedom of (VoIP) Speech" was originally published by Network World.

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