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A few companies are offering software that lets cell phones make voice over IP calls: Some of them do voice over IP over the data channel of the cellular network. This would be a nightmare for the cell phone operators, except that the operators are charging out the nose for the data connections. It really doesn’t make sense to use these services over the cellular channel. What this article neglects to point out is that customers of Mint pay a $7 monthly fee plus two cent per minute calls PLUS the monthly subscription for the data service. In the U.S., those subscriptions are in the $80 range, or more, for unlimited use. If you make a ton of international calls and you’re looking for a great price, you’d just use voice over IP on a computer or use some of the discount international calling companies.
These services could make sense over Wi-Fi, however. In a public hotspot, customers would have to add the cost of access to the hotspot, assuming they could authenticate and pay for access using their mobile device.
Verizon’s CTO has been talking about the potential of deploying voice over IP over cellular, once Verizon deploys a 1xEV-DO network: Some significant changes in the way that VoIP is done will have to be made in order for that to make sense. I spoke recently with Dave Williams, the CTO of O2, about HSDPA, the high-speed upgrade the GSM operators are implementing and I asked him what he thought of delivering VoIP over HSDPA. “I’m not such a big fan of it yet,” he said. Currently, 3G operators can deliver voice in the equivalent of 12 Kbps of bandwidth. Voice over IP over WLAN (or over wireline really) uses as much as 128 Kbps, or as little as 24 Kbps. That means 3G is a more efficient use of spectrum for delivering voice than voice over IP. “For the short term it won’t be comparative to 3G voice but in the long term when the codec improves, who knows,” said Williams. So unless Verizon is working on some super way to deliver voice over IP, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, at least in the near term, to use its data network for voice.
Offering voice over IP over cellular isn’t a way to combat any potential losses the cellular guys might experience as a result of potential voice over Wi-Fi offerings. The only reason to offer voice over IP over cellular would be because it could offer a way for the operators to deliver voice cheaply. The voice over Wi-Fi or voice over WiMax solutions would be threatening to the cellular operators on the basis of portability or mobility and lower costs, not based merely on the fact that they use voice over IP technology.