Thursday, June 28, 2007

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!


  1. Great article. As always you are very fast and precise.

    Mobile Users need to understand that in getting a contract with a phone they are going to get what they asked for. (you pay the phone and most likely a lot more...)
    YOu will have no freedom to use the phone in a way you like it. The bills will not be friendly to your wallet. No choice in apps. Sometimes you will even be confronted with a walled garden in terms of websites you are able to browse. (I recently discovered that with t-mobile in the UK (why have a 1Gig dataplan if they select the web for you);;; I asked myself "Are we in a third world country with a dictator running the mobile phone business!" Where is our liberty?

    So just get your phone independent from an operator. The result is freedom and the operator treats you very nicely :-) - the best part is the first versions of dual WiFi/GSM phones like the Nokia E60 / E61 / N80ie etc are already 1 year old and you can get them real cheap on auction sites.

    I see truphone as a Robin Hood for civil liberty and a champion of consumer choice.

    Let's have technology progress WIN this battle and allow us to reduce our annual mobile phone bill to what they deserve to be. 90% less than what they are now.

  2. Great Article agreed but one BIG exception.

    WiFiMobile should not be classed in the same bracket as Truphone as their client, like Fring's is a stand alone 3rd party application.

    To the comment above "I see Truphone as a Robin Hood for civil liberty and a champion of consumer choice". What is all that about? Truphone are the one's with the problem as their end product is reliant on too many other people bowing to their needs!

  3. Oh what a shame. Instead of Wifimobile I should have better mentioned Vyke.

  4. But Vyke is not affected, says The Register.

  5. The way i see it is simple. If the MNOs decide to disable VoIP in their handsets (which they are now entitled to do) Truphone and every other provider who rely on the Nokia client will be dead ducks in the water. Then they might be forced to invest lots of time and money in the development of their own working VoIP client.


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