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.


  1. markus,

    you misunderstand my point.

    It's not that we don't want free calls. It's that free never converts to paid so companies go away.

    Users who want free will never become a paying customer, of anybody's.


  2. Hello Luca,

    thank you for your answer and the regarding new log post here. I will directly comment there.


  3. "There is no such thing as a free lunch".

    That simple saying is so true.

    A physical product that is free gives you a very strong indication of it's worth. Typically the "free" things are given as an incentive or reward of buying something expensive and profitable. Even presents: are they free or a "token of appreciation" (meaning you are obtaining some value from the relationship).

    What about "free" services? Is there anybody that really gives away their time and intelligence for others? OK, Buddist monks or something similar but we're are talking about running businesses. How about another relevant service... The Goebel blog - which is a very good blog that seems I get for "free". However, I see a lot of Google ads on the blog. Those ads are not for decoration, they are to pay you and Google and the suppliers for this service. There is nothing wrong with that! That is what keeps the system going. It's just a different stream of revenue rather than truly free.

    As a "regular joe" customer I don't want free. I want something with value! And I'm happy to wieght the cost:benefit ratio of products and service and pay a fair price.

    I am in awe of your ability to string together 20 different VoIP providers and run (many of them) through the Fritz!Box. It is in a geeky way inspiring. But, what % of the population wants to go through the level of detail? I would like to have one provider who has dependabilty, quality, privacy protection, and some customer service. And I'll pay them a fair price for it.

    So, when these guys in the business of telecommuncation say they don't want free calls, they mean it. And I as a customer agree.

    Customers that are tricked by "free" offers do not become paying customers for that same product/service. No pay = no profit = no salary = no innovation = no product/service.

    Markus, I really like your blog and thoughts, but the call for "everything free" should be balanced with "excellent value". If you can point me to the excellent values, I will value your blog even more.

    Now, where is that "Donate to Markus" button anyway?...


  4. Unfortunately the Google ads are just decoration. Or nearly. Nothing to count on. Maybe a "Donate to Markus" button would be better? I don't know.

    Still I am convinced that telephony can be free like emails. They aren't really free either, but paid by advertising or part of your ISP contract.

    When I call SIP to SIP I already have that. It's nice that SIP addresses look like email addresses. Put mine at Gizmo Call and call me for free. Nobody will go bankrupt from that. We just have to circumvent the PSTN .


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