iPhone VoIP Comes with Trade-Offs

Updated: April 30, 2009

The iPhone has certainly been at the center of the news recently. Apple Inc. introduced the new iPhone 3G model and sold more than 1 million of the devices the first weekend that they were available. And through its online App Store, Apple for the first time began to offer third-party applications that can run on both new and earlier iPhone models (the latter requires users to upgrade to version 2.0 of the operating system). For many cost-conscious users, the most important iPhone apps will involve VoIP, which will let them avoid the high cost of calling overseas from a mobile phone. But as is the case with all mobile VoIP solutions, iPhone VoIP will come with trade-offs

Truphone's VoIP App

Truphone was the first company out of the gate with a new iPhone VoIP app. Software downloaded to the iPhone lets Truphone's app make calls over the company's VoIP backbone network from wifi hotspots. But the app doesn't allow users to connect to the VoIP network via cellular voice links, as they can with Truphone Anywhere , a service that the company introduced in May 2008. If it did, iPhone users could make their cheap overseas calls even when they weren't near hotspots, paying only for local cellular minutes plus Truphone's low international VoIP rates.

Packet8 MobileTalk for iPhone

On the other hand, 8x8 Inc.'s VoIP application, called Packet8 MobileTalk for iPhone, doesn't use wifi but does use the cellular voice network to carry calls between the handset and the VoIP network. To do so, the app eschews the downloaded client software that 8x8 uses to provide MobileTalk to users of other cell phones (which also means that it's not actually an App Store application). Instead, Packet8 MobileTalk for iPhone employs a Web portal, which is accessible through the iPhone browser, that mimics the iPhone dialer.

To establish the connection once the user has entered the number, the portal reads a cookie that the browser has stored in order to determine who is making the call. The portal then sends the browser an instruction that causes the iPhone to dial a local Packet8 access number. From there, the call travels over the Packet8 VoIP network. The portal-based approach is necessary because third-party apps cannot directly access the iPhone dialer, according to 8x8's vice president of engineering Ramprakash Narayanaswamy.

JAJAH's iPhone App: Coming Soon

JAJAH Inc.'s iPhone VoIP app — like many iPhone apps of all kinds — is still awaiting Apple's OK before users can download it through the App Store, but it should be impressive once it is released. According to JAJAH co-founder Roman Scharf, the app will allow iPhones to make calls that travel over 3G, EDGE or wifi data networks to reach the JAJAH VoIP network. A call goes over the data network if the quality of that link is sufficient or if the user specifies that it do so regardless. Otherwise, JAJAH calls the iPhone and the overseas number that the user is trying to reach and connects the two calls via a VoIP link — a classic VoIP callback approach.

iCall App in Beta

ICall Inc.'s planned iPhone application is still in beta testing. Like Truphone's app, it will use wifi links to access the VoIP network. A unique feature is the app's ability to switch from a cellular call to a wifi call without interrupting the conversation. ICall claims that such transfers will happen "seamlessly." CEO Arlo Gilbert said that the application should be available in early August 2008.

Featured Research
  • The New SMB Phone Systems Comparison Guide

    Does your small or medium-size business need a new phone system? Then you're in luck! Our new, updated comparison guide helps you cut through superfluous information and narrow down your list of solution providers. Get the latest data on phone system features, pricing, and performance metrics in an easy-to-use format. more

  • How UC Can Help Your Business Survive the Holidays

    The holiday season is filled with frenzy and excitement for businesses and consumers alike. Consumers prepare gift lists, compare brands and prices, and begin shopping with a vigor that is not present most other times of the year. For many businesses, the holiday season accounts for a large profit bump at the end of each year, and companies strive to exceed their goals and keep customers happy during this rush late in the year. more

  • [Infographic] Switching Phone Systems

    There are a lot of possible reasons you might want to switch to a new phone system. The old one might cost too much or be too troublesome to operate and maintain. It might not be flexible enough. It might not be reliable enough. Or it just might not have the kinds of features and capabilities that you need in today’s competitive business climate. more

  • Business VoIP on a Budget

    Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems represent the next innovation of telephone connection and communication by making it possible to conduct calls over a broadband internet connection, rather than an analog phone line. more

  • [Infographic] The Advantages of Unified Communications

    Did you know that according to 8x8, the tangible ROI of a unified communications solution for a 10,000-person enterprise is approximately $15.5 million? This isn't the only way unified communications can improve your business. more