In the fierce fight for cheap VoIP supremacy, hyperbole reigns supreme.
In one corner sits MagicJack, whose decidedly unpolished commercials have run rampant through late night television and who issues press releases describing itself as “a cloud communications leader that invented voice over IP (VoIP)”.
In the other corner sits newcomer NetTALK, a “cloud technology company” that claims its newly released NetTALK Duo WiFi is “the world’s first wireless VoIP telephone device.”
Are either of these claims correct? Did you really have to ask?
First, let’s look at MagicJack’s whopper.
The Florida-based company is now giving away its MagicJack Plus phone adaptor that can be used to make and receive unlimited US calls over the company’s VoIP network for $19.95 a year. The company says a typical internet connected home can save bundles of money by using its service, and that’s certainly true. Less true, however, is MagicJack’s claim to having “invented Voice over IP”.
The claim appears to be based on MagicJack’s 2010 purchase of Israel-based VocalTec, a high-flying telecom start-up back in the 90s who, after a series of mergers, buy-outs and near-bankruptcies, had fallen on harder times in recent years.
Back in 1994, VocalTec patented what it then called the first ever VoIP software product, an audio transceiver that allowed two computers in separate locations to handle an audio conversation. When VocalTec released its softphone (called “InternetPhone) in 1995, it was definitely a trailblazer, but the release did not mark the “invention of VoIP”. More than a decade before and long before the consumer internet was born, military operations in the US, Israel and probably elsewhere were utilizing TCP/IP networks to move packets of voice data between locations, or what we now call VoIP.
It is plausible, though debatable, that VocalTec was the first private business to commercially exploit VoIP. But it’s a reach to claim that the release of the softphone marked the beginning of VoIP. It’s much more of a reach, then, to suggest that MagicJack invented VoIP because it purchased a moribund company that came up with the softphone 15 years earlier.
And what of NetTALK’s, MagicJack’s main competitor in the low-end VoIP space, claim to having released the first “wireless VoIP telephone device”? Equally bogus and even less defensible.
The company recently added the $69.95 NetTALK Duo WiFi to its product lineup, a small device that can be placed within the reach of a WiFi router to make or place unlimited calls through NetTALK’s proprietary network. Calls within the US are free during the first year, and $29.95 per year after.
Like MagicJack’s, the offer is pretty good. But the company’s claim that its gizmo is “the world’s first wireless VoIP telephone device” is way off base.
It’s unclear what company can claim such a title, but many have been manufacturing WiFi VoIP devices, or add-ons that give a VoIP device WiFi connectivity, for several years.
In 2005, Linksys/Cisco released the first of its “WIP” WiFi IP phones (the WIP300, WIP310, WIP320 and WIP 330). Two years later, Cisco released its SPA525G, a five-line IP phone that could connect wirelessly, followed by the SPA525G2 in 2010, also with WiFi capabilities. Several other companies, large and small, have released WiFi VoIP devices over the years, including Snom, Pirelli, Unidata, and others.
Also, VoIP manufacturers Cisco, Snom, Grandstream and others have released USB add-ons that add WiFi to their wired devices.
So here’s some free advice to VoIP press release writers: Al Gore invented Google . . . use it.