Friday, June 29, 2007

Comprehensive VoIP overview in San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice comprehensive overview about some of the most importantVoIP companies and minute stealers:
Numbers are adding up for international callers
Internet services help to cut consumers' phone bills
Thursday, June 21, 2007

They cover Jajah, Rebtel, Talkplus, Truphone, EQO Mobile, Mino Wireless and iSkoot. I would have liked to read also about Gizmo Project, Mobivox, Fring or Mobiboo. But then again the article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle, and paper isn't endless.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Truphone extends free calls till New Year

I was wondering what would happen with Truphone's free calls to 40 countries. The promotional offer finishes on june, 30th.

But now it leaked out, even before the offial press release:

"We're extending the launch offer of free calling to 40 countries around the world to Dec 31!", says Truphones forum.

Here is the official announcement from Truphone.

Vyke's mobile VoIP has the same N95 problems like Truphone

I nearly forgot to mention: The Inquirer reports that yet another mobile Voip provider has problems with the crippled Nokia N95, supplied by Orange and Vodafone in the UK. Vyke Mobile has also fallen into the Truphone trap.

Mobile incumbents agree to lock down alternative VoIP providers

The air is getting even thinner for mobile VoIP companies like Truphone or Wifimobile, tells The Register. The Open Mobile Terminal Alliance, a organisation of big mobile operators like Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and 3 has published a guidance for network operators and handset manufacturers on provisioning and maintaining VoIP settings on new handsets. It covers only the usage of pre-installed VoIP clients on handsets, such as that used by Truphone or Wifimobile. Applications which are downloaded later, like Fring or Vyke, go free.

According to the OMTP specifications, operators are entitled to remove or lock down VoIP applications on subsidised handsets, but they must provide the ability to remove that lock when the contract period expires, just as they now will release a handset to be used on another network (SIM lock).

Bad luck for some independent mobile VoIP providers, as the incumbents agree on that the initial VoIP settings should be securely protected in the terminal, and can only be changed by the operator. When the service contract comes to an end, the customer can request the provider to unlock the Terminal’s VoIP settings and associate the pre-installed voice applications with alternative VoIP service providers.

This means in most cases: No Truphone or Wifimobile in the first two years of a contract.

Much better off are independent mobile VoIP companies which install their own applications, such as Skype, Fring, Gizmo Project, Jajah, iSkoot, Nimbuzz or Yeigo. The customer may be able to install third-party applications (Java or other Terminal OS applications) that offer VoIP calling using third-party VoIP providers. The only VoIP applications that are forced to use the operator’s settings are those that were pre-installed on the Terminal, and only during the term of the contract that the Terminal was supplied with.

The mobile phone users must be informed that VoIP has been locked or disabled. So the removal of menu items, in the way that Vodafone and Orange crippled their Nokia N95, wouldn't be allowed. The Register states that the guidance is not binding to the member companies. But as so many network operators were involved in writing, it's surely what we will see next on the entire European or world market.

Let's see if that's acceptable to regulators such as UK's Ofcom and what e. g. Truphone will do. Their new software Truphone 3.0 is so feature rich and has presence functions so that it seems quite similar to the mentioned "alternative VoIP applications" to me. If Truphone 4.0 packed it all in the software, instead of using Nokias underlying SIP functions, they would be out of trouble.

But then Truphone would suck as much battery as Fring does.


I got an email from Wifimobile's John O'Prey. He says that his company is NOT affected. "This is not the case as our client is a stand alone application which can be installed. I would be most grateful if you could kindly correct this."

Sorry for that!

Qino and Jajah get even more engaged

There were rumours about a new deal of the investment company Qino Flagship which recently had invested in Jajah. Now it's out: Daniel Mattes, co-founder and chairman of Jajah, joins Qino's advisory board. Mattes and his fellow founder Roman Scharf also bought a less then five per cent equity stake from Qino.

Mattes says they want to provide their network and experience to Qino's other companies. One directly starts to wonder which ones. Update Software? Pankl?

With Jajah's Mattes in Qino's advisory board the two companies want to emphasize their long term relationship. It started in 2000 and brought Qino already a 5 per cent share in Jajah as compensation for consulting and financial help. With the latest deal Qino now controls nearly 8 per cent of Jajah. Its stock price has doubled in just one month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google doesn't take over Jajah, yet

There where rumours that Google would take over Jajah because last week "three Google airplanes" had landed in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

One small detail escaped the rumourers: There is no Jajah in Salzburg. Most of their people are still working in Vienna and in Israel. On the other hand the new Jajah office in Mountain View (California) is, as far as I know, barely staffed. So Google would probably have to travel to Austria for a takeover. But nothing of that is true, as we learn now from the local Newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten.

It was just Google's CEO Eric Schmidt meeting with his old friends from university. A high profile Princeton alumni meeting, hosted by Austrian industrialist Gerhard Andlinger, attended also by Forbes' publisher Steve Forbes and Germany's ex foreign secretary Joschka Fischer. Names like Newton and Guggenheim were also mentioned.

But still the question remains: Why would Schmidt travel in three airplaines? But maybe this was just a gross exaggeration.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

So Jajah is already worth 2.9 billion dollars

The Swiss investment company Qino Flagship has announced that they bought more than 1 million stocks of Jajah (2,81 per cent), thus holding now nearly 8 per cent (directly and indirectly) of the internet callback service company. That's the interesting news of today.

But what even more my interest was captured the background information: Jajah is already worth 2.9 billion dollars, calculated RRS Capital Strategies Services from Vienna yet in may after the investments by Deutsche Telekom and Intel. They deduct this virtual price from Jajah's user data and the conditions under which Skype had been sold to Ebay in 2005. Based on that Qino's first Jajah investment of 56.000 Euros is already worth more than 100 million Euros. I couldn't find much information on RRS since they don't even have a website, but just a phone number and an email address. But their numbers have been quoted on some trader websites.

Jajah plans to go public on Nasdaq next year, said founder Daniel Mattes in an interview. That's when Intel, Deutsche Telekom, Qino and others get their money back. The company is just a year old! Skype cost Ebay 4,1 billion dollars, but at least they had an own advanced technology. Jajah instead can be copied easily.

The 2.9 billion dollars rating is quite impressive for Jajah's rather simple internet callback service that you can also have in similar shape from companies like Nikotalk, Smart2Talk, Raketu, MINO, Webcalldirect (and all the other Betamax companies), Sitòfono - and probably soon from Yahoo. Sometimes even for free, like at

Or you can build your own Jajah at Voxalot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

T-Mobile UK vs. Truphone: Just the 1st of Hydra's heads

T-Mobile UK is blocking calls to mobile VoIP start-up Truphone. That's a serious issue which caused interesting discussions and points of view. As GigaOM puts it: "CellCarriers fear mobile VoIP planet". That's more or less how I see it as well.

After the fixed line carriers got shaken up by VoIP now it's the mobiles' turn. T-Mobile UK tries to defend its well established business. Maybe Truphone shouldn't have said that they now support VoIP over 3G. It's the old fear of the traditional mobile carriers and one of the main reasons why they kept the mobile data rates sky high in the last years: To loose their comfortable voice revenues.

Rebtel's CEO Hjalmar Windbladh explained to me not so long ago that mobile carries pay only 0.8 Cent to connect a call between Germany and China. But they charge 1 Euro or more from the customer, depending on his contract. These big margins would get lost with VoIP over 3G and maybe that's the reason why T-Mobile UK wants to dry out its competition before it gets too strong.

But this is like trying to cut all of Hydra's heads. It's not only Truphone which is offering VoIP over 3G and over Wifi. It's also Fring, Wifimobile, Mobiboo, Yeigo, aql and thousands of other companies worldwide. In fact every SIP based VoIP provider can do a quite similar job like Truphone. It makes no difference if you install your SIP login data into a mobile phone or an ATA or a soft phone.

I especially like it to have my fixed line home number ring on my mobile phone. For that I use Wifi or a call forward over GSM. Outgoing calls are nearly free or free via calltrough or Wifi.

Just like at Truphone.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I got quoted by GigaOM

One day after my blog post about the comeback of Easymobile the story got quoted at GigaOM. That was nice because it brought me some traffic on this website. Thank you, Om Malik!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

easyMobile comes back with free mobile calls, says Stelios

Today I spoke in Berlin to serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the airline easyJet and other successful low cost product ventures. It was during a press conference about the launch of, which wants to open 10 budget hotels across Germany over the next four years. But much more interesting I found what we talked aside: His mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) easyMobile will come back and offer free cell phone calls, sponsored by advertising.

Until not long ago there already was another easyMobile, planned as pan European MVNO. The Danish operator TDC had licensed the brand from Stelios' easyGroup but things didn't turn out so well. TDC got bought and changed their business strategy which made Stelios retract the brandname. In just 48 hours the German branch changed its name into callmobile. „You always have to be cautious that the franchisees don't damage your established brand name“, Stelios said today.

Now he is planning to start a new MVNO under the name of easyMobile early next year. „The MVNOs brought the cell phone costs down but until now nobody offers completely free phone calls“, he said to me today. „People are used to pay for mobile communication and still cannot imagine that it could be free like televison.“ Therefore he is looking for the right partner to start a free phone calls MVNO, sponsored by advertising. A similar approach we already know from Blyk, a UK based start-up by the former president of Nokia Corporation, Pekka Ala-Pietilä, which is due to launch this summer.

Before every phone call Stelios wants to play an advertising message, which is not necessarily an easy business model, he admits. „To found a cheap MVNO is easy“, he says „but the trick is on the advertising side“. In his plans the advertising should be location based, at least on city level, and requires a lot of personalization. „A person that every thursday night orders at Pizza Hut could be played a Domino's advertising“, he jokes. But to use all the personal data that's necessary for such a service the new easyMobile needs ample permissions from its customers. „People are aware that they give away their data in exchange for free phone calls“, Stelios dismisses any doubts.

Actually he is looking for the right advertising partner to provide the necessary technology and data. He even asked me for a recommendation. When I mentioned Google/Doubleclick he said „yes, but Google today is very much into everything.“

So let's wait and see. After all I wouldn't even be surprised to realize that Blyk is in fact just a place holder for the new easyMobile. The two companies have not yet launched, they share the same business model, are located in the same city and want to start their businesses in the same market at nearly the same time.

Maybe they just are the same?

The natural antagonism between VoIP users and companies

So Luca from Abbeynet has responded to my last comment, in which I stated that free phone calls in fact are a great thing, although he as representative of a VoIP company hates them.

Well, maybe I would have prefered from him a message like "dear competitors, please don't offer anymore free phone calls because we all can die from that". Instead of saying "please, don't give me more FREE calls. I don't want them" - which sounded as if an average end user was speaking, that he isn't.

Just a plain call for an oligopoly! A constellation that companies prefer when they cannot build up a monopoly. This would have seemed more honest to me.

I must admit that in his new blog post Luca has some strong arguments which make me think. But still it seems suspicious that most VoIP news sources are company driven and opt for higher prices. They tend to just tell what's good for their companies and not what's good for the customer. At least I would like to see a disclosure under such articles (as we see it often at GigaOM) which explains your company's interests.

People arrive at those websites via search engines and think it's an independent news source. But it's a marketing tool. That's why you see there news like "higher prices are good for you" while in user forums you find much more appealing messages like "how to make free phone calls from Pakistan to the UK".

That's the kind of information I like. :)

I dream about a worldwide SIP peering where everyone can call everyone for free. People would just have to pay their broadband connection and nothing for the calls, like they pay nothing for their emails.

That's technically possible and it basically was like this when the SIP movement started. But now I see every time more SIP blocking. Calls, which where free before, have to take paid routes. That annoys me.

Somebody has to say that too. There is a natural antagonism between companies and customers. Obviously the companies want the highest possible prices and the customers would love to get everything for free.

Every side has to make their points. Also the end users. That's why I responded like I did.

Also the VoIP flatrates, that Luca proposes as a solution, aren't always the best thing. In Germany they normally cost 10 Euros per month for national calls. When I pay 1 Cent per minute, which is a standard price of many providers, I usually spend 4 Euros monthly for my phone calls. So I would have overpaid using a flatrate.

Another example of the difficult relationships between VoIP users and providing companies.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The customer wants free phone calls

Luca-Filigheddu, from Italy's Abbeynet, makers of Sitofono, writes as guest blogger in the Skype Journal and makes a comment that looks strange at first sight.
Dear VoIP players out there,

I would like to ask you a big favor. Please, please, don't give me more FREE calls. I don't want them. I have always been used to pay for phone calls, it's not a problem. Fair rates of course, but not free. I don't want it. And you can save your VC's money. It's a bargain for me and for you. Please, don't keep offering me FREE calls. ...

Other well known opinion leaders of the VoIP industry, like Andy Abramson and Alec Saunders directly agree, which gives Luca's opinion even more weight and let's it seem very reasonable.

That's the catch of the weird situation in VoIP, where the majority of interesting news sources are blogs from people who have a personal business interest. Two of them (Luca and Alec) run companies in the area and the third does public relations for telecommunication companies. That's a pretty obvious reason why they are against free calls.

The customers point of view got again swept under the carpet. I am pretty sure that most people love free calls and cannot afford more that 200 dollars monthly for communication, like Luca does and thinks that it's normal.

That's why I wrote this reply:

Luca, I disagree.

You seem to be just rich with all the services you can afford. But not everyone has these possibilities.

I really like free calls. I pay 45 dollars monthly for a 16 Mbps DSL connection and try to only do free phone calls. That's a fair price.

But it could be even cheaper, regarding that people in poorer countries also want to talk. The real scandal is that I can call Peru for free or 1,5 Euro Cent. But Peruvians have to pay up to 10 times more for a local call on their fixed line.

Telefónica de España is squeezing them out while they behave in our markets as a price breaker.

I whish these people had the same possibilities as I have, since their wages are up to ten times lower, even if they belong to the middle class. So I always recommend them to use their internet connection also for phone calls. Unfortunately many still don't understand VoIP.

I am really looking forward to the time when all calls are SIP to SIP - and free like emails. People should pay only for the data pipe, everything else should be included. The communication should be free, regardless whether it's by email, instant messenger or phone.

Until we arrive at this point I try to reach exactly this scenario by playing around with the cheapest VoIP providers and looking for free Break-In numbers. So that my fellows from abroad can at least call me for local prices. What I liked most in the last time are Gizmocalls free local numbers.

The coolest thing I knew lately is a GSM gateway. It forwards calls to a VoIP number for free to a mobile phone. Also it lets you make free international calls from your cell phone by calltrough.

So you can use VoIP even without internet.

Best regards,
Markus Göbel

What do you, my dear readers, think? Are phone calls already cheap enough and companies should abolish their free offers?

Or should we smoothly move into an environment where every phone call is as free as an email?

Your comments are very welcome.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Gizmo Call's free local numbers can last longer than 60 days without use

I wasn't happy with Gizmo call restricting its free local numbers to just some weeks if you don't use them. This seemed quite a bummer after I had managed, with lots of effort, to authorize the numbers of about 50 Peruvian friends to call me on the same incoming number from Lima. Since many still don't know or understand VoIP they would soon have lost this possibility, what annoyed me.

But fortunately I got this reply from Gizmo Call's CEO Michael Robertson:

Gizmo Call numbers last for 60 days


Free local numbers last for 60 days. That's 2 months which seems a long time to not hear from a friend.

We don't have any plans to erase them at that point, so the number should last even longer. It's more about making sure we don't commit to say they will last forever and then someone gets upset because they don't last forever.

-- MR

This sounds OK to me. Given the small amount of calls between Peru and Germany I suppose that I will keep my number longer than just 60 days.

Thank you, Michael, for that!

Friday, June 1, 2007

If phone numbers are infinite, why is Gizmo Call's Michael Robertson limiting them?

Multi entrepreneur Michael Robertson is founder of, Linspire and Sipphone (the mothership of Gizmo Call and the Gizmo Project) and other companies. I like his blog very much because he isn't only commenting other people's news, like the majority of bloggers does, but nearly always presenting new features of his products.

I am especially interested in his VoIP ventures, as you can see in my blog posts about the Gizmo Project and Gizmo Call. In the last days I played very much with Gizmo Call's free local numbers. And today I was quite happy to read Michael's interesting background article "Infinity Times Infinity - Telephone Numbers Should Be Free".

There he touts that in fact phone numbers should be free:
Phone companies have created an illusion of a limited amount of phone numbers to justify an unreasonably high charge for a simple telephone number. To buy a telephone number it costs $5-100 per month depending on the country. This is an artificial cost that is not in proportion to the actual costs of a number assignment which should be a one time cost of just pennies. The numbers should be allocated freely because the user will spend money in other ways that make it profitable.

He then explains how Gizmo Call nevertheless manages to give its users free local numbers for incoming calls, although the company itself has to buy them from the telcos.
First, we purchased business type telephone numbers that allow multiple channels. Just as a business can receive multiple simultaneous calls to the same number, each of the numbers in our system can as well. Secondly, we actually assign people the same telephone number and use Caller ID to determine where to route the call.

Gizmo Call purchased a limited amount of phone numbers, for a price that easily "can be covered as a marketing expense", and shares them between its users by taking into account the caller ID, so that there are unlimited call connection possibilities.
Specifically, we need to know the numbers you want to receive calls from in advance. It's very easy to type these into Gizmo Call. And we've created a convenient address book that keeps track of your local numbers for you so you can reference them at anytime.

As I told you in a former post I managed this way to authorize about 50 phone numbers of Peruvian friends. They can call my free local Gizmo Call number (+51-1-70XXXXX) and make my desk phone in Berlin ring. That's great because it feels like my own Peruvian phone number. And at the same time it doesn't take away anything from Gizmo Call's unlimited possibilities. This sole phone number can be used to connect an unlimited number of other people as well, because it takes the caller ID into account. Infinity minus 50 is still infinity!

Michael explains it much better with an example:
Let's say I have a friend in Finland named Markku who I call from Gizmo Call. On his phone he would see a local Finnish number. And you have a friend named Tommi in Finland who you call from Gizmo Call who sees the exact same number. If Markku dials the number our system remembers the Caller ID and knows he is trying to reach me. If Tommi dials the number then our system again uses Caller ID and knows he is trying to reach you. And if you're thinking through all the possibilities if two people call Markku the system is smart enough to always use different numbers.

As you see there are unlimited call connecting possibilities for just one phone number: Markku + Tommi, Markku + Johnny, Markku + Donnie, ... Limited only by the number of Caller IDs that exist in a country. So virtually unlimited.

To assign the same Peruvian phone number to my friends I had to make 50 phone calls to them. That was stressful but I thought this was a one time effort. But then I realized that I will loose this inbound number, that's assigned to a Peruvian friend, if he doesn't call me in six weeks!
Is this really necessary?
I think not. It's just annoying because it wouldn't bother Gizmo to give me this number for ever.

As Michael said: "Everyone except the cartel controlling telecoms knows there are unlimited numbers." And in the same way I don't take away the number from another person if it's assigned to me. Gizmo Call's servers can easily afford a database with millions of phone number combinations. So why is it necessary to loose my free local number, only because my friend did not call me for six weeks?
Could Gizmo Call please abolish this regulation?
That's what I directly asked in the readers' forum for Michael's article.

I don't like the idea to tell a friend my number, but after six weeks I have to tell him another, only because he did not call me. I mean: Most people don't understand what "VoIP" and "phone number multiplexing" means! They will just think that I am crazy because I change my phone number constantly and to every friend I give another.

Technically that's not necessary, I think. Infinity minus 50 is still infinity!