The premise is simple. Call abroad through your regular carrier and you’ll pay (typically steep) international rates. If you’ve got a generous data plan, on the other hand, why not send that call via your data connection and pay practically nothing?
That’s the idea behind VPhone, a product of 10-year-old Australian firm Matrix Knowledge Management. The application is available to consumers for $2 and also to VoIP Service Providers (VSPs) for them to white label package as an ancillary service to their customers.
Already available for Symbian S60 3G, Android, and Windows Mobile devices, VPhone recently joined the near-endless roster of apps available through the iTunes App Store.
Getting the product listed on the Apps Store was no small feat. “It took us about eight weeks to get it approved and during those eight weeks there was very, very little communications,” said Matrix Managing Director Jerry Monteiro.
Having cleared that hurdle, however, Monteiro said, VPhone now finds itself facing a handful of competitors including iTelBilling, VoipSwitch and RADVISION.
In approaching the marketplace, VPhone will be looking to stake out ground primarily among virtual service providers (VSPs). In many cases, Monteiro said, these carriers are eager to get access to differentiators in their efforts to seek out potential customers for what could easily be (and is rapidly becoming) a commodity offering.
VSPs that already have signed on to offer VPhone to their subscribers include Exetel and StaunchTalk.
“Most providers are operating on a level playing field, so the only way for them to sign on end users on a mass scale is to offer them features they cannot get from other providers down the road,” Monteiro said. “While most of them can do this on the PC, they don’t yet have this capability to do it on cell phones and that is what we can give them, a mobile user experience that mimics what you can get on a Mac or a PC.”
As he seeks to white-label VPhone, Monteiro also be will pitching the virtues of customization. “Most of these providers, they will change the logo and set down the user settings. Then we can add e-mail notification, integration with the user’s toolbox, a lot of custom specifications,” he said.
As a marketing strategy, Monteiro is hoping an approach aimed at VSPs will prove an efficient means to give VPhone broad exposure. “We are talking to providers here with 700,000 customers, so if we can go to that company instead of going to those 700,000 users individually, that is going to benefit everybody,” Monteiro said.
“We can’t possibility reach the masses out there, but the carriers already have their customers on the books that they service from month to month, so it becomes almost like a joint venture, or a partnership relationship.”
For consumers, the ability to place calls as data can deliver significant savings. To call from a cell in Australia to a U.S. landline costs about a penny a minute with VPhone, Monteiro said.
In terms of functionality, the VPhone user interface mirrors an ordinary dial pad experience. One the app is launched, “you punch in the numbers and hit the call button, but instead of going through the public switch network it goes through your data network.”
Ultimately, adoption of VPhone and similar tools is going to require consumers to give fresh thought to the nature of IP-based telephony, Monteiro said.
“Most people when they think of VoIP still think of being stuck in front of a PC. We are showing people that you can be in a café, you can be walking down the street, and you can still make that cheaper call. When it comes to VoIP mobility, most people still don’t know what it is.”