One day, Wifi coverage will be everywhere, and VoIP mobile phones will simply coast from one free Wifi hot spot to the next.
That dream is years away, even in densely populated cities, but callers are still finding ways to make free (or cheap) VoIP calls from their mobiles today.
Although PC-to-PC VoIP calls are almost always free, making the extra jump from PC to mobile phone means paying "termination fees" to complete calls to mobile or landline companies' phones.
People seeking free mobile VoIP have devised some ingenious ways to get around termination fees and other PC-to-mobile limitations, and they fall into three categories: getting someone else to pay, getting their mobile to dial their PC, or having their mobile connect with Skype.
Jajah lets you call for free as long as another Jajah user covers your fees. Economists call it "freeriding," and it works like this: Enter your phone number on Jajah's Web site, then the number you're calling. Press a button on the screen. Your phone rings and you answer, and then the callee's phone rings and they answer.
It's simple and free as long as you limit your Jajah calls. That's because someone else is paying to use premium Jajah services like business accounts, or calling non-Jajah users or certain foreign countries at Jajah's rates. As long as you only use Jajah for a "fair and reasonable" amount of time per month—slightly less than an hour per business day, or about 1,000 minutes per month—Jajah lets you keep making calls. (They will likely try to upgrade you to premium services in the meantime, however.)
Abuse Jajah's hospitality and the company will "ask" you to subscribe to a premium service or two, such as text messaging or scheduled calling . If you don't, Jajah locks you out and your freeriding days are through.
Wolverhampton, UK-based ROK offers a different fix for the mobile-VoIP conundrum: Software that causes your cell phone to transmit as a Bluetooth signal to your PC. Assuming you have a Bluetooth-enabled PC up and running, you can talk with other ROK Viper users on their mobiles with no problem. You can also talk with several people at once and still receive other calls (even PSTN calls) on your mobile via call waiting.
This is not the ideal "mobile," since your mobile becomes a highly complex cordless phone that can't leave your PC's Bluetooth transmit/receive radius; but at least you're talking on a handset rather than a PC-based headset. If you plant yourself at a free Wi-Fi hotspot you're good to go.
ROK pitches its technology to markets like sales and executive teams on the road with their laptops, whose long-distance and international tolls suddenly vanish. ROK's ambitions don't stop with just business calls, though; it has also created an ecosystem of ROK-centered sites, including ROK Entertainment (to view comedies, sports and music videos on a mobile), ROK TV (radio and television), Player (DVDs) and ROK Student (a ROK-based social network) to build a critical mass of users. Again, these technologies' advantage is questionable if you must stay within BlueTooth range of your PC; why not just listen to music or watch DVDs there rather than on a tiny mobile screen?
Pluses: Installation is straightforward, and company spokesman Doug Dyer says pure Wifi support is on the way . Drawbacks: In September 2006 Russell Shaw noted that ROK Viper was only compatible with a short list of Nokia phones, although compatibility with a hundred more was being promised .
iSkoot is a much more flexible mobile VoIP product: Have your mobile dial one of iSkoot's servers, which then connects via Skype to one of your Skype buddies' PCs, or through SkypeOut, their PSTN landline or mobile . All you pay for is the cost of an ordinary mobile call, assuming it doesn't cost anything for you to dial iSkoot's number.
Installation is simple: You download the iSkoot client either to your PC or directly to your phone via SMS, see who's online, then click to call them.
iSkoot is currently limited to Motorola, Nokia and Palm handsets, and available features vary even among these . However, iSkoot plans to support BlackBerry and J2ME phones and to port calls via other services. They can pursue these developments thanks to a new, $7 million round of financing announced in February 2007.
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