Truphone company founder Ed Guy is one of his company’s best customers. “I’m a multiple device person. My cell phone doesn’t work in my house. So when I’d only need one device I’d have to carry two.”
Now he only carries one, thanks to UK-based Truphone’s long-awaited “mobile VoIP” for the Nokia N80, which was launched today. Currently the service is only available for Cingular and T-Mobile customers because Nokia doesn’t deliver WiFi-enabled phones for the other services.
Truphone’s “secret sauce” is simplicity.
You download the software by sending an SMS with the letters ‘TRU’ to a specified number. The phone is provisioned automatically and uses your existing address book.
There’s no sign-up charge or monthly fees. You only pay for calls outside the Truphone network. All you have to do is start making calls — no special numbers or key sequences. “It’s the type of thing your grandmother could use,” explains Guy.
When you dial a call Truphone first tries to route the call over the Internet. If that doesn’t work, the call is sent over the GSM cell phone network. There is reconfiguration that has to be done when you move between WiFi hotspots. But this job is still a one-key operation.
The obvious application for Truphone is cutting airtime charges, which add up very quickly for overseas calls. For example, GSM calls from the US to the UK are $0.34 per minute while the same call placed over the Truphone IP network is $0.024 a minute — less than a tenth the cost.
And there are other handy applications as well.
If you live in a place with poor cell coverage (like Ed Guy’s house in rural New Jersey) you don’t need another handset to make calls using your WiFi network. Another use is during a power outage. If you can find an operational hotspot, you can still make calls.
Now, some are saying that Truphone offers “seamless handoff” between cell and WiFi networks. That’s not quite true.
Yes, you don’t have to do anything but dial calls. But once the call is placed over one network it’s not going to move between the cell network and the WiFi network the way calls move from one area of cell coverage to another.
“We do have the technology for roaming between GSM and WiFi,” explains Guy, “but it hasn’t been deployed.” High battery power consumption is the issue, Guy says, and the company is working on a hand-off method that won’t interfere with battery life.
Truphone hopes to bring its dual-mode calling to more phones in the coming year, although Guy won’t commit to any dates. “We’re seeing a lot of user demand for VoIP-enabled phones,” says Guy. “It should promote the proliferation of hotspots.”