Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is there such a thing as a FREE call ?

Last week a friend of mine told he that he could make FREE calls to Indonesia from his overseas VoIP provider. I am not talking about PC to PC calls (e.g. Skype to Skype) but calls from PC to fixed or mobile line calls. So I decided to do some "investigation".

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 !

5 comments:

Carlee Marlin said...

Wow.. free voip calls.
I just wonder How will VoIP Impact the Telecom Industry. Anyway is a good news for consumer.

Jack Chrysler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Eivind Toreid said...

I use VoIP-Discount, one of the programs offered by Betamax. I have never experienced that they have frozen my account orsaid that my money expired. I fill my account with 10 €, call for free for 120 days and then start spending the 10 €, so that 10 € lets me call for 5-6 months. Only problem, I tend to exceed their fair use policy of 300 min per week. When calculateing whether my call is free or not (whether or not I have called more tan 300 min last week), I suspect them of counting all my calls (both free up to 300 min, and paid for above 300 min per week), not only the free calls.