We’ve been following VoIP over mobile phones on Enterprise VoIPplanet for several years.
The technology has gone through substantial evolution and a number of techniques and approaches have been tried—adaptations of the Skype client (and similar technologies), local cellular call to a VoIP gateway, callback (where a VoIP gateway calls and connects two phones), via wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) connections, and more recently, with data-enabled phones, VoIP calls over cellular data network—to name a few.
Each has had some benefits (cost savings, to varying degrees), and some shortcomings. By and large, they are proprietary applications, and there has been no widespread adoption by mobile carriers (who initially viewed mobile VoIP as a threat to their revenue streams).
Late last year, AudioCodes based in Lod, Israel, launched the VMAS family of mobile VoIP solutions—consisting of a client optimized to run on almost all major smartphone operating system platforms (exception: BlackBerry, soon to be rectified) and a client management system (CMS) for service providers.
VMAS—a SIP-based application, which can route calls both over Wi-Fi networks and cellular data networks—is aimed squarely at mobile operators.
We recently had an opportunity to speak with Haim Melamed, AudioCodes’ director of corporate and channel marketing, who gave us a detailed picture of the offering.
AudioCodes developed VMAS as a natural extension of its entry into the high-quality, HD-enabled IP phone market last year, Melamed explained, based on market research predicting a $32 billion market around mobile VoIP by 2013 (see our coverage) and the proliferation of dual-mode handsets (some 400 million by 2013).
Another driving factor cited was a desire to further the adoption of HD voice (def.) a technology, of which AudioCodes has been a prime mover.
“We have implemented HD VoIP across all our platforms, including our IP phones, which are HD capable out of the box, Melamed told Enterprise VoIPplanet. “We wanted to intro introduce HD VoIP in the mobile space. By providing mobile clients we also enable HD VoIP in the mobile space,” he said.
Despite the early hostility of mobile carriers to VoIP solutions running over mobile handsets, AudioCodes now sees two vectors of attractiveness for its VMAS solution.
First, Melamed remarked, is the desire to reduce costs for roaming users. “When you travel abroad, or out of your home operator reach, calls start to be very, very expensive. It’s expensive due to the cost or price that the hosting service provider brings on top of the call,” he said.
In other words the home provider reaps little benefit from overseas roaming calls. And the clincher? There are many lower-cost alternatives, from Skype (et al) to other proprietary solutions. Why not make it cheap and convenient for your customer to use your service instead of going to a competing solution.?
“If you’re sitting in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi access—free or maybe you pay for it—you can use your Wi-Fi access to connect—over IP—to your home service provider in North America. Which means you are a remote extension of this service provider, and the cost of the service provider to connect you is zero,” Melamed said.
But there’s a second play in the mobile operator market as well—namely reducing traffic on the cellular access network from users in their homes, or other locations with Wi-Fi network access.
“When you use your Wi-Fi network at home, the mobile service provider can offload the call from the expensive mobile network into the free Wi-Fi network and reduce the load on their bandwidth,” Melamed pointed out.
Better yet, the appeal of a system like VMAS extends even to wireline based ITSPs (def.).
“If you are a customer of an ITSP at home, you can potentially extend this line into your mobile phone, and while you are at home—or maybe traveling—instead of making the call via your mobile service provider, you can make the call via your ITSP—which is real fixed/mobile convergence,” he told VoIPplanet.
“So they are stealing customers from the mobile operators by using smartphones and VoIP and SIP,” Melamed put it.
As mentioned, VMAS can utilize both Wi-Fi and cellular data networks. “The catch with cellular data is that you pay by the packet,” he said. “But assuming you are on a flat-rate connection—or you have a very big quota of data that you can use (the voice call is not that heavy anyway)—you can use cellular data. With 3.5G and LTE, with faster data speeds, it becomes more relevant to use mobile data instead of Wi-Fi.”
Today, AudioCodes has versions of the VMAS client that support Windows Mobile, iPhone, Android, Symbian—with BlackBerry support coming soon. All have the same management interface for the service provider. “In addition, we have a PC client, and a Flash Web client,” Melamed added.
Melamed also stressed ease of use for customers. It “just works”; you don’t have to run a separate application, and can dial directly from the phone’s native address book.
The application supports SMS as well as voice—and did we mention that it’s designed around HD audio technology?
Looks like quite a complete solution. And according to Melamed, over 30 service providers have bought into the system in just a few months.