Sprint Nextel has a secret. You can use Sprint’s high speed wireless data service to make VoIP calls at a fraction of the cost of traditional cell phone calls. But the company isn’t going out of its way to tell you about it.
PeerMe hopes to change that with its new, free service that lets subscribers to Sprint’s mobile broadband make unlimited free VoIP calls between PeerMe users.
And PeerMe isn’t the only player promoting the cellphone as the center of the VoIP universe. This week Cambridge, MA-based iSkoot and UK-based Woize also announced free services for VoIP calling over cell networks.
PeerMe works on any Internet-enabled device from a PC to a mobile phone or PDA — just download the software from the company’s website. The company will also offer a low cost dial-out service, which will be rolled out in the next few weeks. Sprint’s mobile broadband service is $60/month for all-you-can-eat access.
It makes sense to piggyback on the device that’s already in everyone’s pocket.
“If you’re going to use something as your communication hub, you need to have it with you all the time,” says PeerMe founder and CEO Tom Lasater. That role is already filled by cellphones.
Building on the cellphone network also makes sense because WiFi isn’t really ready for prime time, Lassater contends.
Ubiquitous WiFi is “at least three years out,” he says. “Sprint has a few years’ head start.” With Sprint’s network, launched in 2005, subscribers can get high-speed Internet access anywhere. “It’s here, it’s now,” adds Lasater.
The cell phone industry business model is changing, according to Lasater. “The big break was Windows Mobile 5 [operating system for mobile devices],” he says. “This allows anybody to put any software on the mobile phones. Consumers can now download any software. Now you really do have a useful device in your hands.”
While cell carriers worry about cannibalizing their customer base with VoIP services, Lasater thinks they’re short-sighted. VoIP opens up whole new marketing opportunities for selling high-end devices and a one-stop shop for high speed Interent service.
“With unlimited broadband access, you can justify paying for the service,” he explains. “You can justify buying a high-end phone. There are lots of reasons why it would improve [carrier] business. The software is available, anyone can use it, so why not take advantage of it?”