The U.K.-based mobile application developer ROK Group last week announced the launch of ROK Viper, its new mobile-to-mobile VoIP service, calling it the world’s first “no strings attached” free mobile VoIP application. The free software uses Bluetooth to link your mobile phone to your computer, then transmits the call using your computer’s broadband connection.
“We all love our mobile phones and the freedom they bring to us, but we hate the high calling charges,” says company chairman Jonathan Kendrick. “So we set out to develop our really easy-to-use mobile VoIP solution, as we know there will be universal appeal for such a thing—particularly if we gave it away for free and it enabled callers to make free calls on their mobiles.”
Company spokesman Doug Dyer says Viper builds on ROK’s range of mobile video solutions, including ROK TV and ROK Player—all of which, he says, are far more established in the U.K. than in the U.S. “In the U.S., so far, ROK has been operating sort of under the radar,” he says. “It’s mostly been a U.K. play, and we’ve been doing a lot of things in China.”
ROK Viper, Dyer says, expands the “ROK ecosystem” to create a complete offering. “It broadens it to not only allow for data and video, but now we have a voice play as well,” he says. “It’s almost like we can walk into a place and offer a V-MVNO—a virtual MVNO—to somebody who doesn’t want to go out and buy the airtime.”
Viper currently works only with a few Bluetooth-enabled Nokia handsets, though Dyer says the company plans to add compatibility with more than 100 different handsets within the next three months, including Windows, Palm, and J2ME devices—and he says interoperability with other VoIP clients is planned within the next few months as well.
Key to the solution is the ability to view presence on your mobile phone—from your handset, you can tell who’s online and available to receive a call. For businesspeople, college students, and others who are accustomed to using their mobile phones anyway, Dyer says, being able to access that kind of information directly on the phone can be very attractive.
And while the solution is currently limited to Bluetooth, Dyer says Wi-Fi support is also coming soon—as well as the ability to use the mobile phone’s native data plan. In fact, Dyer says the current release is really, more than anything, a test by the company to see what kind of response Viper gets in the marketplace. “We’re really looking at the next iterations of this thing to make it a lot more interesting,” he says.
The promise of running Viper over your mobile data plan, Dyer says, has actually been received well by operators. “It’s one of those things that MNOs [mobile network operators] are going to have to embrace, or they’re going to fall behind,” he says. “I think it’s something that will ultimately become part of their offering; it’s all part of the whole shift toward making data revenues the core of their business, rather than voice minutes.”
With so many changes to the solution planned over the new few months, Dyer says the real push for the release of Viper in the U.S. won’t come until the first quarter of next year.