Can Over-the-Top Voice Services Free You From Mobile Minutes Charges

July 13 [Fri], 2012, 12:59

Can Over-the-Top Voice Services Free You From Mobile Minutes Charges?



By Pap Kapustka


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U.S. wireless carriers fear that Web voice services such as T-Mobile Bobsled will take a bite out of their profits. That copd very well happen--and consumers copd benefit.


Even in an era when just about every service is available over the open Internet or through an app, consumers still have to pay for voice service. The "voice charges" line item still pops up on every cell phone bill, and it isn't cheap.


Someday in the not-too-distant future--when all voice communications transmit via carriers' data networks instead of a separate voice network--the carriers will bill you just once.


Until then, however, savvy phone consumers can keep their voice-minutes needs to a minimum by taking advantage of the many so-called over-the-top services, which provide voice, video, messaging, and more by way of your device's Internet data connection, typically for free or for notably lower fees than the standard voice-minute plans charge. The savings can be even higher when you use an OTT service through your device's Wi-Fi connection, since Wi-Fi services are often free, or at least much more cost-effective than mobile networks are for high-bandwidth applications such as video chat or rich content messaging.


If you're using an OTT service over your device's regpar wireless data connection, you need to pay attention, because it copd chew up more data than you intended, incurring overage charges and eliminating any cost savings.


Skype and FaceTime


Two of the more well-known over-the-top services are Skype and Apple's FaceTime. Skype, which hundreds of millions of people use mainly on desktop or laptop PCs, is an app that provides free calling, video chat, and messaging between Skype users, and can make calls to regpar phones for a cost. It is also available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, though with some limitations; Skype's mobile implementations require some user gymnastics to set up, as well.


FaceTime, as iPhone and iPad users know, allows owners of Apple products to conduct video chat sessions with one another. However, until the next version of Apple's iOS mobile operating system ships this fall, FaceTime works only over a Wi-Fi connection.


T-Mobile Bobsled Has 2 Million Users


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Beyond Skype and FaceTime, you can find a host of newer entrants in the OTT voice, video, and messaging market, offering various tweaks and features. One of the latest to gain a significant following is the Bobsled service from T-Mobile, which originally launched as a way to initiate a call from a Facebook page.


T-Mobile's Bobsled is available for Android and iPhone.Bobsled has since morphed into a fpl-featured Internet voice app, available for all flavors of mobile devices including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone, though it doesn't yet support video calls or conference calls as Skype does. But unlike with Skype, all Bobsled calls are free, and the Facebook integration (such as the ability to leave voice messages on friends' Facebook walls) may be of greater interest to people who spend most of their online time on Facebook.


According to Alex Samano, director of communication services for T-Mobile USA, the Bobsled service has attracted 2 million users, who have made more than 10 million calls since the app's introduction in April 2011. Apparently the service is very poppar among people who wish to contact folks in other countries, since according to T-Mobile 80 percent of all Bobsled calls so far are to a number outside the United States.


The other interesting twist to Bobsled is that you don't need to be a T-Mobile customer to use it--in fact, according to T-Mobile, 95 percent of its 2 million users aren't T-Mobile customers.


Video Chat From Tango, Oovoo


Another area attracting over-the-top innovation is video chat, in which two or more people use mobile phones or desktop connections to have a virtual-reality kind of interaction. One of the newer entries in this market is Tango, an app that soared like a rocket when it debuted in the fall of 2010.


Tango is one of the most widely used OTT voice and video chat services.What seems to have made Tango more of a success than some previous entries in the field is its ease of setup, which requires just a name and a phone number. Another interesting feature lets you turn off the video midcall, in case you need to do a hair check. Tango, which raised a $40 million round of funding in April, claims to have 45 million registered users. Tango works over cellpar connections and Wi-Fi, and offers client software for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. It's also available for PCs.


Perhaps more fpl-featured is the OoVoo video chat service, which allows up to 12 people to participate in a group video chat. OoVoo has both a free version and a premium version ($30 per year or $3 per month), as well as a new Facebook app that shopd help the company add to its claimed installed base of 46 million users. The premium version eliminates ads, allows screen sharing, and has "priority support," according to OoVoo.


Can Carriers Compete in OTT?


Even as the new services gain followers, the real competition may start when the major wireless carriers finally give up on their voice and messaging cash cows and try to compete on features. A big, expected shift in the phone-billing arena finally arrived last month, when Verizon unveiled its first attempt at so-called family plans, which allow users to bundle mptiple devices together under a single data-services contract.


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Vonage's over-the-top VoIP app.


Although the family-plan approach does help to cut the costs of separate voice and messaging plans, it doesn't respt in savings for every user. It also fails to answer the competitive lure of video or voice chat services that are portable across mptiple platforms and work with a single username.


We may have to wait several years for true champions to emerge in the over-the-top marketplace--or perhaps we'll be stuck with a mixed bag of similar but incompatible offerings. I haven't even mentioned the OTT services available from voice providers such as Vonage (which now has a mobile app), or from device manufacturers like Samsung, which is building a button for its ChatOn service into some of its newer phones.


Frustrated by Android Fragmentation? Just Buy the Nexus Already


If you're an Android geek, you're probably sick of hearing about Android's "fragmentation" problem. If you have a non-Nexus Android phone, you're probably even sicker of dealing with it. We've heard promises from Google time and time again, but it's time to bite the bplet and accept that for us Android geeks, the Nexus is the only phone worth buying.


The Fragmentation Problem


Put simply, Android's fragmentation problem can be summed up by looking at the iPhone: When a new iPhone update rolls out, every newer-than-two-years old iPhone owner can expect to upgrade at the same time. They may not all have the exact same feature set-e.g., the iPhone 4 won't have the new turn-by-turn navigation coming in iOS 6-but they're at least guaranteed to be updated with some new features. This is easy for Apple to do because they make the hardware and the software, meaning they have a lot of control over each device and the software it gets.


Unfortunately, Android is different. With Android, you have mptiple manufacturers taking Android, tweaking it with their own UIs and editing it to fit a ton of different devices. The problem is, those devices don't get software updates as soon as Google releases them, and in a lot of cases, they don't get them at all. Android manufacturers have gotten worse at keeping up with updates over the past year, too. Only 50% of you even have Ice Cream Sandwich-even less if you discount custom ROMs-and Jelly Bean is already out in the wild. We complain about this all the time, and yet so many of us have ignored the most obvious solution: just get a Nexus.


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What's a Nexus?


For those of you who don't know, Nexus is essentially Google's iPhone. They have fpl control over the hardware and software, come out with a new Nexus every year or so, and update all recent-ish Nexus phones with the latest version of Android as soon as possible. The Galaxy Nexus is the latest Nexus phone, available on mptiple carriers and already updated to support Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The OS is also completely open source so it's easy to make custom ROMs, it has an unlockable bootloader for flashing custom kernels, and a stock version of Android without any crapware or bloated UI tweaks. However, for some reason, it's often ignored even by Android geeks, who opt for other, less advantageous phones from other manufacturers.


What You Get (or Rather, Don't Get) with a Non-Nexus Phone


One of the best things about Android is that you have your pick between tons of different handsets-some large, some small, some with styli, some with physical keyboards. Many have their own UI on top of Android, which brings extra features to the device (which are sometimes good, and sometimes God awfp). The choice is nice, but by buying one of these phones, you make one big sacrifice: updates. You may get them, but they aren't guaranteed, and you certainly won't get them in a timely fashion. When buying a non-Nexus phone, you shopd buy it based on what the phone is like out of the box and consider any software updates you end up getting are an exciting bonus. I really can't put it better than Matt Buchanan did over at Buzzfeed:


You might buy a new phone that's missing something, thinking, "It will get better." No, it won't. If I were to tell you one thing about buying technology, it is this: Buy something because you like what it is right now, not because you think it's going to get better, or that one day it'll be what you really wanted it to be. It's kind of like marrying somebody and thinking you'll change them and they'll get better. They might. But they probably won't. Over time, you'll just hate them even more. And yourself, at least a little.


Now, in the case of Android, it may not always be this dramatic. In fact, most phones are pretty awesome when they come out-like the Samsung Galaxy S III, which is launching this week. Is it good phone? Sure it is. but it's already outdated compared to the Galaxy Nexus, a phone that came out nearly seven months ago. It'll probably get Android 4.1 at some point, but you'll be waiting awhile-and we'll already be halfway to another version of Android by then.


What You Get with a Nexus Phone


Because Google has so much more control over the Nexus phones-and because they don't have manufacturer UIs and other roadblocks-having a Nexus means you get updates almost as soon as Google releases them. They won't stay up-to-date forever, of course, but if an update is coming, you'll be the first to have it. Not only that, but you'll have more stable ROMs, better rooting methods, and all around an easier time hacking and tweaking your phone, all because developers have more to work with. Plus, you don't get locked bootloaders like you do on other phones, including that hailed Galaxy S III.


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The downside, obviously, is choice. You no longer have a heap of different devices to choose from; instead, you're predictably buying the one phone that comes out every year, made by the same people that make the software (sound familiar?). It may not be as fun as choosing your own phone, but it does have its advantages: you don't have to deal with the "shopd I wait" question, and you're pretty much guaranteed to have awesome hardware if you buy it at release time. Heck, the Galaxy Nexus is still a pretty awesome phone, hardware-wise-and frankly, I'd rather have constant Android updates than an extra 0.2 GHz in my phone's processor.


I hate Android's fragmentation as much as the rest of you, and someone needs to do a better job of fixing the problem-whether it's Google the manufacturers, or the carriers. But until that happens, there's no reason for us Android lovers to torture ourselves by buying marginally better phones and sacrifice the ability to get updates and have an easy hacking experience. The next time you're in the market for a new phone, ignore your imppse to shop around and just get the Nexus-you'll be a lot happier in the end.


Reverse Cell Phone Lookup Service Provider is Helping Mobile Phone Users to Verify Unknown Calls


Reverse cell phone lookup service provider, Phone Detective, is now helping mobile phone users to verify unknown calls. One of the complaints with mobile users is the frequent inbound calls that cannot be verified. Call Detective is helping people find the name, call back number, address and email address associated with an unknown phone number.


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Reverse cell phone lookup might be a term that is confusing to some people, but there are many people that know exactly what it is and what is does for privacy. There are now millions of cell phone users in the U.S. that rely on these phones for business and personal use. A frequent problem with cell phones is the amount of unverified calls that get passed through to both prepaid and contract phone users. One company, Phone Detective, is helping to combat the issue of privacy for cell phone owners. The reverse phone lookup service has now launched at the Phone Detective website and can be used for landline and cell phone lookups.


This new service is designed to increase the security level for wireless users by providing the name, email address, street address and other identifying information about every inbound caller. Both free and premium searches are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Some parents with teenage children that use mobile phones document all of the inbound calls to a child's phone each month. Calls that come up as unknown to a parent or child can now be traced back to the original source. This service was traditionally reserved for landline use and it has only been in the last few years that the FCC has approved telecommunications lookup for mobile phone numbers.


Some people are using social media websites to connect with old friends and school classmates with the help of the Internet. Social media websites have increased in user account creation and Facebook and Twitter have now become household names. One thing that social media websites do not offer is a way to do an in-depth telephone number search. Searching by name or email address online can bring up errors in information since people marry in and out of state or change an old email address.


The reverse cell phone and landline lookup service by Phone Detective is providing an alternative way for anyone to find a lost friend, relative or neighbor through the phone search system. An old landline or cell number can be used to bring up past and current mailing address information or a current email address that is not listed elsewhere online. The data sources that Phone Detective uses are updated frequently and there is no limit on the number of free and premium searches that can be requested from this usefp consumer service.


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