Some 14 years ago I had a demonstration of using a standard Telstra 64k ISDN line (Yes, Virginia - indeed there was a time when Telstra deemed 64kbps to be a super fast premium business only service at a mere $A900.00 per month for line between Sydney and Melbourne) to make 6 simultaneous voice calls from Sydney to Melbourne and at the same time carry data traffic between two computers. This was using a new telephony technology called 'compression', a new voice telephony service called voice via Internet Protocol and a pair of 'magic boxes'. It was a stunning demonstration and heralded the start of breaking the Telstra through the roof high costs for business of making interstate telephone calls and of connecting interstate offices to head office data base facilities. It was the beginning of a true revolution for business that some 8 years later began to filter through to residential users and that today is now very common and has spelled the end of the telephone charge/line rental monopoly rip off.
Yesterday - I had a demonstration of similar, perhaps greater, impact (at least on me) that will complete the telephone voice revolution and the pricing tyranny that goes with all monopolies.
I had a demonstration of using VoIP over HSPA (handset was a Nokis N95) as part of putting in place the final details of preparing to make HSPA services available later this month. I was very impressed - that is an understatement. I made test calls to land lines and mobiles, in Sydney and interstate and also called a mobile overseas and the quality of the voice, on both ends, was equal to or actually better than a PSTN call. It was a stunning realization of something that should have been possible but I never expected such an amazingly good result.
At this stage we have decided to use a small Israeli/USA start up company called 'fring' to provide the very, very simple method of enabling any 3G mobile hand set to make VoIP calls and, at this time, this does incur a 400 to 500 millisecond delay as the fring servers we are using are on the West Coast of the USA. However this is a very minor aspect of the performance and we are in the process of addressing that issue by locating 'fring' severs and switches in our PoPs.
If the 3G coverage (Optus, Vodafone, Telstra and possibly "3") is as good as it is in North Sydney then I can't see any sensible person paying for "mobile capped plans" or the rest of that dreary set of marketing lies for too much longer. Of course, 3G is not universal at the moment but, if you believe the public statements by the three main mobile network providers it will be pretty much everywhere in Australia pretty soon. So.....a true revolution in the pricing of mobile telephone calls is at hand?
In my simple testing yesterday I used the Exetel VoIP service which has end user calls of 10 cents per call to any Australian land line and 30 cents per minute to any Australian mobile number. To those costs would have to be added the HSPA IP charges which, and this is a rough guess, amount to around 1.5 cents per minute at the most - but I have no firm figures as yet. So my three minute calls from a mobile to Australian land lines were costing me, at the most, 14.5 cents and my six minute mobile call cost me $1.89. By using 'fring' I could call another 'fring' enabled mobile at ZERO COST other than the approximately 1.5 cents per minute for the IP traffic.
These costs are, of course, a fraction of the costs of ANY mobile carrier in Australia no matter how many "capped" options they offer. So this the end of mobile call high prices (at least for people with more than two brain cells).
Or is it?
I was reminded that, at least currently, the Apple iPhone couldn't be used to make mobile calls as it had been specifically requested to have this function 'barred' by the carriers and this was a condition of them distributing the product. Similarly there is talk that Nokia, Ericcson, Samsung etc are being pressured by the same major carriers to do the same on all 3G capable models they release in the future to protect their exorbitant pricing and therefore their exorbitant profits from mobile usage. I have absolutely no information that is the case but it is a very pervasive 'rumour'.
So there is some doubt that the widespread ability to use VoIP over an HSPA/3G mobile network is in some doubt at the moment - but only because one or more mobile carriers will artificially make it impossible procedurally - apart from coverage in an area there is no doubt it can be done technically and operationally. It would need a consistent 'toeing the line' agreement by the four Australian network carriers to make that happen (otherwise they would be disadvantaged competitively) which, as far as I'm aware, is a go to gaol offence under corporations law in this country.
What must be really terrifying carriers like Telstra and Optus is that their hyper lucrative business users would be able to halve or quarter their mobile telephone bills using free mobile to mobile facilities via 'fring' (or a similar service) let alone massively reducing the general costs of mobile calls. Oh - and then of course they can also use a service like Exetel's SMS via email on a mobile handset to eliminate that other 'money for nothing' mobile service called high priced SMS.
I have little doubt that, lead by Telstra, there will be a great deal of 'obstruction' to using VoIP over HSPA in Australia (remember the 'rumours' in the US of carriers "de-prioritising" VoIP traffic on the IP networks to protect their voice call and line rental revenues?) - but - "I have seen the future of mobile calls and it's VOIP".
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