Saturday, September 22, 2007
Is there really such thing as a free call ? In the VoIP world, if a call has to go to a fixed or mobile line, it means that the call must actually travel on the public telephone network in the destination country - this is called termination.
For example, if you use your PC softphone and dial say a DTAC phone number in Thailand your call has to travel travel from your VoIP provider's network to DTAC. If you VoIP provider has a direct connection to DTAC, he could channel your call over to the mobile phone by originating it on the DTAC network say by using a mobile phone (with a DTAC SIM). Alternatively the call could be channeled through other operators like TT&T, TOT, True, AIS, Hutch etc. since these operators have the ability to make calls to DTAC networks.
Do you think any of these operators would not charge for calls originating on their networks ? I have seen all kinds of promotions in Thailand on mobile networks but I have never seen one that says FREE calls 24 hours a day ! After all, these operators are in business to make money.
So how then could a FREE call be provided in the case of my friend's VoIP provider ? It turns out that the provider my friend was using is VoipCheap, which is one of the 13 marketing names / brands from a German company called Betamax. A quick search on Google revealed many complains about the practices of Betamax.
I have listed here some of the complains :
What are some of the "tactics" deployed :
1. Blocking accounts for no reason. Especially if you account has a positive money balance. So your account is frozen and you can't use the money there.
2. Changing promotions without pre-informing customers. So you just top-up and then that FREE country is now no-longer FREE.
3. Expiring of balance. Balance expires in 120 days even though you did not use the money in the account since you only called FREE countries.
4. Auto-Charging your credit card every month to make sure you keep topping up your account even when you are making FREE calls.
So while my friend was not being charged for his call to Indonesia directly ... he had to keep money in his account and keep topping it up even though he does not need to use that money for his Indonesian calls.
Is it really FREE ? You know the answer !
Friday, September 21, 2007
Most prominent of these and available in Thailand are the offerings from Nokia based on Symbian S60 (e.g. E-Series 61) and that based on Windows Mobile 6 (e.g. HP's iPAQ 512).
Note : Though the HTC-Touch is based on Windows Mobile 6, it does not have the SIP support included, I heard it was due to software license restrictions.
You can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi (FREE or otherwise) and use that connection to connect to a VoIP service provider. Imagine sitting in a Starbuck's and using your mobile phone to make calls but not paying anything to your mobile operator ! And it appears that True and Nokia have tied up to offer free Wi-Fi to N-Series Nokia models available in various places !
How does it work ? Well, these phones support SIP, which is a VoIP protocol that is fast becoming the standard and its supported by many programs/devices (except Skype). With built-in SIP support, just add an account from a VoIP Service Providers and you now have a portable IP Phone !
Simply (well a number of steps are involved to configure your phone) sign up for an account with a VoIP Service Provider and then configure the settings on your phone. Thai Telephone provides some setup instructions to connect if you have an account. Once you are all setup, when typing a number to call, you will have the option of making an Internet call or a GSM call.
Restrictions apply of course and here's a bunch :
1. Connecting to Wi-Fi networks. You might need an account with a Wi-Fi provider if you are out of the office. In your home or office, you could simply connect to your existing Wi-Fi networks.
2. Firewalls and Blocking. Some Wi-Fi networks may block ports required for SIP in their firewalls, so even though you are connected you might not be able to place calls.
3. Quality. Just as in VoIP requires a good broadband connection, your call quality could degrade if the Wi-Fi network you are connected to is heavily-used.
I am waiting for the day when we have a outdoors Metro Wi-Fi network - multiple Wi-Fi hotspots in town that lets your "roam" from one hotspot to another and keep you connected, then you will have a real Mobile IP Phone ! If you are in Singapore, the island-nation already has a FREE wireless broadband ... how envious !
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Aside from issues about paying them money and being billed in another currency, these providers do not have the blessing of the regulators in Thailand I am sure but I do know of lots of people using their services.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Mouthmun prepaid services has a promotion till 31st Dec - rates starting at 0.75 baht
Call Cafe's prepaid softphone offers 0.50 baht to Thailand and 0.95 baht for international.
Cat2Call also running a promotion till 31st Dec starting at 0.91 baht
Looks like a price war is brewing ?
Have not tried and cannot vouch for their call quality though.
Cavaet emptor !
Monday, September 17, 2007
Most internet users must have been hearing of VoIP for years now. Maybe you had poor experiences with it in the past.
Well things have changed since then. Just like when video was first available on the Internet with postage stamp size "moving pictures" on 33.6K modem dial up speeds, as compared to now with services like YouTube. With broadband or faster internet access, VoIP has made a "comeback" just like how video did. Obviously with faster internet connections, things work better, look better and sound better !
Now VoIP is often marketed as Digital Phone, Broadband Phone, or even internet Phone service. Simply put, it refers to using your internet connection to talk to people where phone calls go through the internet instead of traveling through traditional phone lines.
Today there are lots of free programs to let your computer act like a telephone call softphones, add a mic and headset, and your computer becomes a phone. By getting an account from various providers, you can start calling around the world if you keep enough money in your account. Skype of course is the most well-known of the lot.
But given the natures of telephones and the fact that people don't really enjoy talking and sitting in front of their computers, it's becoming more common to purchase specially made devices that are separate from their computers but still use their internet connections. These devices, either ATA (phone adapters) or IP phones lets you use a normal phone with your Internet.
These devices must of course be tied to an account with a service provider. To make a call, just pick it up, dial a number and talk just like you would with a traditional phone service. It does not matter if the person receiving the call has VoIP or not, because that is taken care of by your VoIP service provider.
Compared to traditional phone services, VoIP is often more cost effective especially since such calls bypass regular Telco charges, the companies using broadband can offer much lower rates. Plus mst service providers offer FREE IP to IP calls. So if you have a friend who is a subscriber of the same service, you could call and talk to him for FREE !
VoIP looks set to be the future of communications. While currently the broadband phone services may not offer quite as much reliability and quality as traditional phone lines, the technology is improving constantly and wont be far behind.
Anyway, since you are already paying a fixed monthly charge for your broadband to your ISP, there is no real incremental running cost to start with VoIP today. In fact VoIP will probably save you a bundle !
Here are couple of links to licensed VoIP service providers in Thailand :If you know of more providers in Thailand, add their links please.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
These online tests will give you a good guage as your system's readiness for VoIP. Some of them actually simulate a VoIP call and rates its "quality":
If you know of other useful test sites, leave a comment.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Did you know that every Skype user makes his PC available as a node on their peer-to-peer network ? Read this article.
I know of so many people who use Skype as a primary tool for making cheap overseas calls. These people were up in arms and resorted to their more expensive international calling service from their local telco.Skpe of course was apolgetic. And perhaps most interesting was the comment by Skype spokeswoman Jennifer Caukin.
Caukin said last week's outage was regrettable, and she added that the company has always encouraged customers to have backup communications. "Skype is not intended for enterprise-level needs.... It is important to remember that Skype is not a replacement telephony service," she said.
So those using Skype for business .. make sure you always have a backup method to make your calls !
Read Skype's explanation here on the failure of August 16th.