Friday, February 29, 2008

Truphone's new pricing

Will the free lunch finally be over? That's what most Truphone users are wondering. The company has extended it's introductory offer several times. Some people are enjoying free Truphone calls to the landlines of 40 countries for an entire year already. Today is one of these days that the party is supposedly over. The Truphone press website still says:
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Truphone freezes call charges until the end of February 2008

Truphone today announced that all Truphone call charges have been frozen at their current rates until February 29th 2008. For the next two months, Truphone calls will be free to landlines in 40 countries, and to mobiles in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. Using Truphone to call EU mobiles costs just 15 pence per minute or less.

In Truphone's Mobile VoIP Forum users get nervous and say things like: "It is a bit lame though now being the 29th and no prices given on the website. How are people supposed to take a company like this seriously." They are right. February 29th is nearly over now, but still there is no new pricing. Truphone team member JackieG says in the same thread:
Yep, Feb 29th has long been marked in our calendars. We've been putting the finishing touches to a spruced-up website and a new price offer.

Check out tomorrow afternoon (Sat 1st March) to get full details. We will also be sending good news to existing customers by email and SMS...

So this time it's just a relaunch of the website? That makes me guess that the new price offer will be the same like before: Free calls for another two months. Later we will see much more technical advancements from Truphone, as Research Director James Body showed me in Barcelona.

Bhaskar Roy: Qik should be a part of Nokia's Ovi

Qik is one of the greatest mobile internet applications I know. You just start the software on a Nokia N95, and yet you are broadcasting live video to everyone over the internet. Have a look at my company's Qik stream at Mogulus if you want to see the next transmission.

I immediately thought that this kind of live video broadcast is the last feature that's missing on Nokia's social platform Ovi. There you can already share photos, videos, comments and blog entries in more than 100 file formats. "We support nearly every existing file format”, said Serena Glover, Director Service Operations, Connect New Experiences at Nokia and ex CEO of Twango in an interview with me at the Mobile World Congress 2008 in Barcelona. But Ovi always keeps you waiting for your friends to upload a new video. You can't just tune when it's still being filmed. It feels more like Blockbuster video than real television. Unlike Qik, which lets you broadcast and see events while they are still happening.

"Absolutely! Qik should be a part of Ovi", therefore said Qik's VP Marketing and co-founder Bhaskar Roy when we talked in Barcelona. He also related how venture capitalists are competing to do his company's second round of funding. Our chat was very interesting and insightful. Who had thought that this Silicon Valley company is mostly based in Russia? While India born Bhaskar and his friend Ramu Sunkara run Qik together with some other Stanford graduates from the Californian city of Santa Clara, most of their employees live and work in Moscow. Nilolay Abkairov, who was a former speech codec developer for Skype mobile, and his team are busily porting Qik to all smartphone platforms.

His friend Alexi handles the video streaming issues, which make use of quite nifty technologies: The handset shoots the video as MPEG4 and immediately streams it as H.263 over a 3G or Wifi connection to Qik's server. There it's being transcoded into Flash for Qik's website or into a Realvideo stream for mobile handsets. "Qik is developing a new live streaming to other mobile handsets”, says Bhaskar. "You won't even need a browser to watch a livestream. We send a Realvideo stream directly to your friends' cell phones."

So soon the cell phone will not only be a camera but also a tv set. Everyone is a sender and a receiver at the same time – if he has the right handset. "Qik works on all S60 platforms and a version for UIQ is in development”, says Bhaskar. "A version for Windows Mobile will be launched soon.” Their aim is to make Qik work on every possible camera phone. That's why the team in Santa Clara is also developing a Java client for cheaper handsets. They even tested Qik successfully on phones with just 100 Megahertz CPU and only an EDGE connection to the mobile internet. "Qik consist of a layer that's different for every platform and a platform independent layer”, explains Bhaskar. "That's why it takes only some weeks to port Qik to a new platform."

So while the future looks technologically bright for Qik, I asked Bhaskar how his company wants to earn money. Until now the service is free and Nokia hasn't made an offer yet. "In this year we will only concentrate on consumer acquisition”, is his answer. Advertising on Qik's website would be easy to implement, like Google does it on Youtube. Also companies could sponsor certain channels on the website. "We could also offer value added services for very cheap prices like $1 per month", says Bhaskar. As an example for a premium service he mentions privacy. Until now every video appears directly on Qik's starting page as soon as you activate the camera. Every stranger can see it until you switch off or hit the "0” key.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tpad has cleaned out dormant accounts although they were in use

One of the most reliable VoIP services I know is Tpad. Not only that it worked flawlessly for more than one year, they even credited $10 to my account when I found an error this weekend. Needless to say that Tpad never got any money from me penny pincher, because I use their service only to receive calls.

Long before Jajah Direct, Wifimobile or Gizmocall started similar services, Tpad already had break-in numbers in 39 countries. It's an entire callthrough system: You can dial whichever of these 79 numbers and the number of my Tpad account to reach me for the price of a local call. That's much more reliable than the other services, which depend on the Caller ID to connect the call. In poor countries with bad networks this Caller ID often cannot be transmitted for technical glitches. I am permanently connected to Tpad with my SIP ATA so that my Peruvian friends in Lima can always call me for the price of a local call.

Today it's more than one year that I started to write about Tpad and I have used it since then. But some days ago I realized that my SIP devices could not connect to the Tpad server anymore. Not from my ATA, not from Voxalot, not from a Nokia E61, not from a Nokia N810. Other German friends had the same problem. What was wrong? I asked in their forum and learned that Tpad had cancelled my account because they thought I didn't use it anymore:
Tpad performed a cleanup of "dormant" accounts, without remembering that call records are only captured for calls that use the Tpad softphone. Since you use Tpad exclusively from an ATA or non-Tpad softphone, your call activity is not remembered. So, it is very likely that your account was improperly considered dormant and was suspended. Tpad should be able to restore it for you pretty quickly.

What really impressed me was that the forum admin immediately wrote "Send me a PM of your Tpad Number(s) and we will fix asap". What a difference to other VoIP services! His answer, apology and $10 to my account arrived the same Saturday. On Sunday they fixed the problem. What a great service!

I think I should charge some money to my Tpad account as a gesture of gratefulness. If only it was necessary! With $10 I can call for more than ten hours to Germany and this credit never expires. That's another big difference of Tpad to other VoIP companies.

Before you call Betamax a scam, read the Terms of Service!

In the last weeks I received many messages from people who want to start a lawsuit against the VoIP company Betamax from Cologne, Germany. They feel betrayed by the mothership of Voipstunt, Voipcheap, Sparvoip, Lowratevoip, Nonoh and other offers. Something must have gone wrong with their billing or they believe that Betamax wrongfully charged too much. Aside from the problem that Betamax themselves are apparently victim of a scam, I can only say that for me everything works flawlessly. But I get the impression that many users don't understand the company's Terms of Service. This morning a Betamax user called Robert wrote:
The company I work for happens to be in Moscow so I call them regularly. Why do they suddenly want to charge me for these calls? It doesn't make any difference whether I call the U.S.A., Italy or Russia. They are all free and perhaps I call Moscow three times a day but perhaps twice a week.

I told him to first look at the website There you can always see the latest prices and you will realize that with most Betamax companies you can call Russia's landline phones for free, within a Fair Use Policy (FUP) of 300 minutes per week. This FUP seems very fair to me. I never exceed it, so Betamax' normally works like a flatrate for me.

In fact I am very surprised about their cheap prices for Russia, because I know that connections outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow are very expensive to buy in wholesale markets. Therefore e. g. Rebtel users have to pay $0.019 Cents to Moscow and St. Petersburg landlines - but $0.079 Cents to other Russian cities. So Betamax' $0.00 Cent is a great bargain. For the German company it makes a big price difference whether they terminate calls in the U.S.A., Italy or in Russia. Although it might be difficult to explain to the average user like Robert.
Now I see that calls, which were originally free, are now being charged under the 'fair use policy'. This I don't understand.

There can be two reasons for that:
1.) Robert calls for more then 300 minutes per week.

2.) He shares his IP number with other users, so that Betamax thinks that it's only one user. That's what happened at Voxalot, a virtual internet PBX: All Voxalot users had the same IP number to Betamax. Therefore they jointly exceeded the FUP very fast. Voxalot managed to strike an agreement with Betamax to pass the original IP number, so that every user now has his own FUP.

So, if Betamax charges for actual free calls, there might be a technical problem. Otherwise it seems a great bargain to me to get 1.200 minutes per month from Betamax for just €2.50. (Taking into account that that you have to pay €10 every four months to get the €0.00 to Russian landlines.) People should also consider what user satphoneguy wrote in Voxalot's forum:
having lived in many parts of the world I think that a lot of what is happening is relate to cultural differences and expectation of customer service. from what i have read the vast majority of complaints are coming from the USA. here in the USA it is somewhat expected that if you are unhappy with a service or feel deceived by misleading marketing that you should be eligible for refund on what you spent. most American companies do indeed give 100% refunds to their customers no questions asked when they complain. i do know from having lived overseas that is not the business etiquette everyplace. there are a number of reasons why many people may feel deceived since the betamax 'fair use policies' are not very clear. in particular concerning additional charges for use of SIP devices on some services. it is all exasperated in that americans also feel that every company should have a customer service line where they can call with questions(or complaints) or at very least email support with a quick turnaround to response(same day)

i do have to say though that it seems many people who complain about numerous betamax companies continue to try the others. this is very similar to what i dealt with working for a very large retail company - some of the biggest complainers and returners of products for refunds were also some of the biggest shoppers; i would see them on nearly a daily basis.

i personally have never had a billing issue with betamax. although in recent months my only funded account is nonoh; since the rates are so much less for the mobile destinations that i call than with any of the SIP options and i have unlimited calls to NA and most landlines through another provider.

Many people in Europe accept a lousy service, as long as it's cheap. But others expect a great service although they pay nearly nothing. That's just not possible to deliver for a company. Good service always has its price, especially in a country with sky-high wages like Germany. People who want more than just plain phone minutes should subscribe to companies like PhoneGnome, Packet8 or Sipgate which have real hotlines by phone and email for their clients. That's what I also told Robert, who finally admitted:
I suppose, like most people, I never fully read the 'Terms of Use', although in these terms there is no exact reason mentioned and more than that, there is no exact time limit per country or city mentioned where this might be relatively easy as an adder to the price information.

Please always have a look at the small print at the end of every Betamax web page!
* Max 300 minutes per week of free calls, measured over the last 7 days and per unique IP address. Unused free minutes cannot be taken to the following week(s). If limit is exceeded the normal rates apply. With your FREE DAYS you can call for free to all the destinations listed as free! When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply. You can get extra Freedays by buying credit

They say it very clear that free calls are limited to 300 minutes per week and IP address. That's not too difficult to understand, isn't it? What still remains a mistery to me, is the sentence „When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply“.

What are these normal rates after 300 minutes? I couldn't find them either.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Native Skype for Symbian announced – not by Fring and not by Skype

One thing I heard in Barcelona was that the mobile network operator 3 is not so happy with the 3Skypephone. People are allegedly using it like crazy and 3 is required to install more and more servers from the US startup iSkoot which powers the service. As you remember the 3Skypephone doesn't do mobile VoiP but makes an GSM call from the phone to the 3-iSkoot server, which then cannels them over the fixed line internet to Skype. The data connection is only used to show the presence of the Skype buddies. These iSkoot servers must be quite expensive.

Skype on mobile phones is generally a problem, said Eric Lagier, Business Development Director for Mobile at Skype, last year. A native version exists only for Windows Mobile devices because only they have a strong enough CPU. Symbian users already gave up all hope for a native Skype on their handsets. For more than two years they are waiting for Skype to solve its battery drain and latency problems. Only a prototype was reported in February 2006. Symbian users still have to rely on 3rd party applications like Fring, iSkoot or Mobivox – most of them eat up phone minutes.

But now a real native Skype version for Symbian cell phones will come out, I have been told at the Mobile World Congress. Maybe next week already. It will enable to make Skype calls over 3G and Wifi. The most interesting fact is that this software will NOT be released by Skype and also not by the Israeli software maker Fring, which until now was the only option for a Skype data call. Stay tuned and remember that you read it here first! I am quite excited to see when this rumour will really come true. Unfortunately I cannot tell the name of the company to not ruin their surprise.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

OpenMoko urges Android to release everything as source code

While I was in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress 2008, I received a message from Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of OpenMoko, producer of the world's most open mobile phones. Their Freerunner, Neo 1973 and Dash Express devices use the open source operating system Linux and people can install every software they want on it with just an apt-get. Where other companies have a Linux kernel with a locked proprietary stack on top of it, the OpenMoko phones are open from top to bottom. You can use your own tools, compile your own kernel. Everything barring a few small drivers is open source under GNU General Public License (GPL).

In Barcelona I talked to a representative of the LiMo foundation who doesn't want to be quoted with his name. He revealed that LiMo Linux is in fact a closed shop. The only aim of the LiMo companies is to produce cheap handsets with a versatile operating system that doesn't cost them a dime. Most end users won't even notice that it's Linux because they are not allowed to install any software for „security reasons“. More open is Android of Google's Open Handset Alliance, he said, but the most open system is OpenMoko.

Read what their CEO Sean Moss-Pultz thinks about the Android and other actual developments! He has answered my interview questions by email.

What's the actual status of Openmoko?
We limited our production of handsets for developers. Our goal was to sell a small number to an enthusiastic crowd. When we sold out in 3 days, we realized that we need to build another batch of phones. From our standpoint the developers are engineers in our company. We don't have more than 10,000, currently. As the project became more noticeable we got inquiries from many different directions. So, for the next release of FreeRunner we will plan for more at the start and get ready for ramp up of consumer oriented products. The coolest thing about a Neo is what it doesn't do. It doesn't lock you out. It's a GNU/Linux computer. It does what you want.

What is the most difficult thing about building a GSM phone from scratch with Linux?
OpenMoko started as a project inside FIC (Taiwan) and has recently been turned into it's own company. So, we've had to build a open software stack, build a team, build a product, plan a future, and build a company, while everyone gets to watch.

Most of the challenges, I would say, are philosophical in nature. Not technical.

In an closed company you go through various stages of hardware development. These stages are hidden from the general public. Prototype hardware is built and passed out to a few select internal developers. Later, more hardware is built. In a pilot run. This is distributed internally to more engineers in the company. Finally, it's presented to the public like it just came out of the oven.

OpenMoko is inside out. Our prototype are shared with developers around the world. Why? because our engineers are outside the company as well as inside.

In some ways we are like a reality TV show. Showing how one builds a gadget of the future. It's like a cross of Survivor, Dirty jobs, and ice road truckers.

What can your handset do, the Neo1973? Give us some specs and tell what is so great about it, compared to normal mobile phones!
The hardware specs for the phone are on, but in short its a GSM phone, with GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3D graphics acceleration and accelerometers. But this is not a spec war and this is not a beauty contest. Neo branded phones unlock the hardware and unlock the software. The software on the phone, the applications you use are totally open. If you program you can change them. If you don't program you will download popular programs that others have built.

Which people do already have such a handset, the Neo1973? Can people buy it somewhere? Is it planned to be sold to the general public some day?
Our Neo 1973 has been onsale since July of 2007. We're totally sold out now and won't make anymore. Our next produce Neo FreeRunner is coming soon.

I think we primarily appeal to technologists now and will stay this way for the some time to come. But this is not at all limiting. What I find most appealing about OpenMoko is that we just have to provide the right framework for change to happen. Our community is the one that pushes the revolution. The more people that develop for this platform, the larger the target market becomes.

We've found a strong and influential niche. In the age where mass market TV advertising is dead, this is crucial. Marketing a product initially to the masses is impossible, I would argue. People have too many choices and not enough time.

OpenMoko stands out because we are different. We speak directly to the needs of an extremely creative group. Our goal is to provide them tools and inspiration so they can realize the have power to revolutionize the world. OpenMoko is a company from their community. We will amplify their voice.

How did the OpenMoko project start? Whose idea was it and who pushed it forward?
About a year and a half ago I was a product manager at First International Computer (FIC) -- a large Taiwanese OEM, charged with Defining the product roadmap for our division. I was quite limited, unfortunately, by having to create only Windows Mobile devices.

I quickly realized that it didn't need to be like this. I could step outside the box any time I liked.

The phone that I really wanted to create was the modern equivalent of the programmable calculator. A device that is simple to use, but almost infinitely extensible by the end user.

The main idea was that the driving force behind the Internet is Free and Open Software (FOSS). It's the superconductive medium that powers the Internet. Without FOSS the Internet would be trapped in 1995.

In a nutshell, OpenMoko is about spreading this technology to mobile devices. Letting people everywhere "Free your phone." It's the birth of a new Internet. Not merely a revision, not simply 2.0, but rather a connected, interconnected experience wherever you wander.
Without FOSS the mobile phone still lives in 1973.

Our first open mobile device is called the "Neo 1973". It's internet connected, location aware, and completely FOSS. In a way, I see the mobile industry as a matrix. The industry is hindered by proprietary systems and Neo is trying to tear down the walls unplug humans from the matrix and give them back their power.

I took this idea and pitched it to our senior management team with the help of Timothy Chen -- a very smart businessman. Without him, this whole project would only be another unfulfilled entry in my sketchbook.

How is Openmoko organized today? How do you include all those Linux developers worldwide? Is there a boss or a structure?
We are a fully independent company now:

Lots of people trying to make great open mobile devices.

What is your opinion about Android?
We support FOSS endeavors. In our philosophy, a software platform needs to be free from the iron to the eyeballs. That means FOSS code from the lowest levels that talk to hardware to the highest levels that present images to users. We hope Android moves in this direction. We encourage them to.

Is Openmoko involved with Android?
Yes. We lobby them to join the FOSS movement and release everything as source code, all the way down to the drivers like we do.

Has Openmoko been contacted by Android?

Is Openmoko source code involved in Android?
Our source code is freely available GPL.

Maybe Android source code is involved in Openmoko?
If they posted GPL code and our community found that it was good and useful it would get used. That's what FOSS is all about. This is how FOSS gets stronger for everyone.

How does the launch of Android affect the Openmoko project?
It's rather humbling. We never expected a company like Google to endorse our concept of freeing the phone. It's also exciting because we realize that with their support of developers many new open applications will come to the FOSS platform.

Why did Harald Welte leave? He was Openmoko's "Senior Software Archtitect System Level" and we were very proud that he was from our city, Berlin.
Berlin should be proud. Harald is a great programmer and was key to getting The first phone, Neo 1973, shipped. He did a huge amount of work and is still a part of every Neo that ships.

What does this change?

We have our goals which Harald helped create, and we are meeting those goals and going beyond them. We are prepared because of his diligence.

How do you see mobile communications in ten years? Everything seems to "open" now. Verizon and AT&T open their network, Google bids for an open spectrum at 700 Mhz, Mobile Wimax promises more open mobile communications...
You could say there were two theories. In one theory the user pays for bandwidth (time on line) and the device (phone, set top box etc) is free. In the reverse world, bandwidth is free (like free WiFi) and people buy great devices.

In one world you pay premiums for bandwith, in the other you pay premiums for devices.

Opening the network...levels the playing field and gives people more choices. This is what Openmoko is all about.

Great contacts and exclusive information from the Mobile World Congress 2008

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2008 in Barcelona was a great event. Thanks to Andy Abramson and the Nokia Blog relations program I met a lot of interesting fellow bloggers. My pal Alec Saunders was so nice to make a listing of the people we met:
Some of the great people and bloggers I bumped into at the show include Stowe Boyd, Darla Mack, Jonathan Greene, Matt Miller, Alan Reiter, Oliver Starr, Bill Tam, Lubna Dajani (get that blog going, Lubna!), Esme Vos, Martin Geddes, Dean Bubley, Xen Mendelsohn, Martyn Davies, Jonathan Zar, Loren Feldman (and it was me who mistook him for Ze Frank), Markus Goebel, Jeb Brilliant, James Body, Florian Seroussi, Daniel Appelquist and of course Pat Phelan. You can read more about the show on any of their blogs.
I would like to thank especially Martyn Davies from the VOIPSA blog. He gave me great hints to prepare my interview with Fring's CEO Avi Shechter - who was so kind to say that he is a regular reader of this blog, although he doesn't always share my opinion. Also the Cellity founders Sarik Weber and Tim von Törne outed themselves as regular followers. And Michael Poppler, European region sales manager of VoIP solution provider GIPS, even jumped out of his booth when he recognized my name on the MWC badge, saying that he always wanted to get to know me.

Thank you very much for this feedback!

It was the first time in a long period that I left my cave in Berlin from where I maintain contact to the IT industry largely by internet and phone. The next opportunity to meet me is a the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover. Needless to say that I brought lots of exclusive information back home from Barcelona. I will cover it in my next blog entries. Great changes are coming and some of the most pestering problems in mobile VoIP will be solved soon. (Not only that Packet8 made their MobileTalk a free product as I always advocated.) Some companies have have discovered new business models or changed their technology, but didn't announce it yet.

Most fun was my interview with Qik's co-founder Bhaskar Roy. His company is so hot that one venture capitalist even asked me to convince Bhaskar that he wants to do Qik's second round of funding. Qik should turn down all other offers. That's certainly a great way of living: Being haunted by rich people who compete to give you their money. But Qik deserves it. You just switch on the Nokia N95 and yet your face is broadcasted on the internet. Just look at the morons on Qik's start page who still don't realize that they are online and everyone can see them! My tip from Bhaskar: Dial zero and your broadcast switches immediately into privacy mode. Too sad that my Qik interview with Cellity just disappeared. Although Bhaskar had said that I could do it in offline mode and it would be uploaded automatically from the phone the next time I connected to Qik over Wifi.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Meet me at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona!

This weekend I will travel to Barcelona to attend the Mobile World Congress, the year's most important trade fair in the wireless industry. I work there as a reporter for Areamobile and member of the Nokia Blogger Relations program.

The schedule is quite packed with interviews to Qik, Nokia, United Mobile and many other companies. Most interested I am in new devices.

However I realize that many of my readers and fellow bloggers will go to Barcelona too. It would be great to meet you face to face. So please drop me a line to set up a meeting!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Further improvements and a great announcement at Maxroam

Next week I will be at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and I will take my Maxroam SIM card with me. So outgoing calls to German landlines will cost only €0.38 per minute and incoming calls €0.25, instead of €0.58 and €0.28 which a usual German cell phone provider would charge me. Before last year's regulation these prices where even higher. In some countries I'd still have to pay €2.49 per minute for a local call while roaming. To be reachable in Barcelona I will forward my Berlin office number for free to the UK fixed line number that I have on my Maxroam SIM. I will either use my own ATA for that purpose or a new Maxroam feature.

An outgoing call with Maxroam is a litte bit different from a normal mobile phone call. It doesn't start directly. Instead you see several status messages running over your phone's display, like "calling", "requesting" and then again "calling", before you receive an incoming call with no number. That's Maxroams server calling you. A voice says "connecting, please wait" and contacts the callee. This entire callback system is based on USSD messages. That's a kind of free short messages in GSM networks, which can be sent only between the user's handset and the provider. USSD had been invented to let you check the amount of prepaid minutes on your SIM card for free. Nowadays it's often used as a 'trigger' to invoke independent calling services like Maxroam. Think of it like Jajah, but without the need to pay for mobile data usage for the communication with the server.

The Cubic phone, which can also be had from the company for usage with the Maxroam SIM and for VoIP over Wifi, is so packed with software that there is no space left to secure it with a PIN number. Maxroam's CEO Pat Phelan told me in an interview: "It’s very packed on the operating system and we have had to leave room for the two logging on GUI for the hotspots". In the last quarter the company had lots of backend work going on which now result in further improvements, as Pat Phelan told me in an email:

1. Live billing
We now have full live billing for all users on our backend, make a call, hang up and we instantly display it.

2. Add a local number
As of today we can add local FIXED line numbers to your MAXroam sim from 52 countries. (MAXroam only use fixed line numbers unlike other companies which use international mobile or premium UK mobile numbers where the average users have no knowledge of what it costs to dial the SIM and your friends are just subsidizing your roaming). This list is being added to every day. These numbers begin at €1.05 per month and you can pick up, drop as many as you like, minimum commitment is only a month.

3. Free Call forwarding
When you arrive in your destination sometimes you have access to a hotel room or an office number, we will now allow to forward all your MAXroam numbers totally free to fixed line numbers in a list of 48 countries so you are roaming for ZERO COST.

4. SMS only 5c
Once you log into your MAXroam account we will allow all users to send SMS anywhere in the world from the backend for only 5c per message.

But the most interesting announcement he already made in November, when I asked him in an interview for the German magazine ProFirma about Maxroam's prices compared to other companies like Sunsim, Globalsim or TouristMobile:
Our pricing is only at the beginning, most of these company are just resellers and I don’t mean this as an insult, we are building a global brand here, our aim within 1 year is 20c in and out in Europe and under 10c in the USA. Our next sims will be 128k Java with between 6 and 16 IMSI on each sim depending on your travel arrangements, so you arrive in India, we have an Indian IMSI on your SIM and you roam at discounted rates, we are not depending on other peoples roaming agreement and are at present travelling the planet signing independent roaming agreements.

Under €0.10 in and out? Now that would be a great price for USA, where Maxroam still charges €1.10 or more for incoming and outgoing calls. I can't wait to see these 6 and 16 IMSI SIM cards. That's like taking 16 cell phones with you, each one with a local card. So you don't have to pay for incoming calls.

Friday, February 1, 2008

VoIP provider Betamax apparently victim of a scam

It seems that the VoIP provider Betamax has to be relieved from fraud allegations which spread across the web in the last weeks. Alec Saunders had pointed to a story from which said that the mother company of Voipstunt, Voipbuster, Voipcheap, Nonoh and much more VoIP services was fraudulently charching money to credit cards and Paypal accounts of members and nonmembers. had issued a public warning:
Over the past 18 - 24 months we have had dozens, if not hundreds of complaints about the Betamax group, all from users and even non-users trying to find an outlet to vent their anger or trying to find a means of contacting the company in Germany.

In all cases the modus operandi is the same: Users who have never used the VoIP services of any of the Betamax VoIP websites find that small amounts averaging between between US$10 and US$35 are charged to their credit cards. In every single instance the credit card charge description was - BETAMAX VOIP CREDIT COLOGNE - (Cologne is the English name of Köln - the apparent headquarters of the group in Germany) and Betamax are the beneficiaries of these fraudulent charges.

At the Voxalot forum most of us couldn't believe these charges, since most of these penny pinchers there are quite satisfied with Betamax' offers. Of course their customer service is terrible. If you have a problem there's no one to call and the email support is just a joke, as I already told in "WTF is Betamax (VoIP)?". But then, there are heartbreaking stories to read in Ebay's user forum for Paypal:
jlmoore0 (7 ) View Listings | Report Jan-31-08 05:43 PST 22 of 28

I have never heard o Betamax GmbH & Co.KG HOWEVER I have just been charged £383 on my credit card by PAYPAL. I stopped my credit card & contacted Paypal - who tried to imply that someone in my household had used my account!! This seems incredible owing to the amount of complaints about this company. I am not impressed & when resolved won't be using paypal again!!

Unfortunately it turns out that Betamax is not responsible for all the wrongdoings but a victim itself, as a Paypal representative declared yesterday: View Listings | Report Jan-31-08 14:08 PST 23 of 28

Hi All,

If you are seeing fraudulent charges in your PayPal accounts, your login information has been compromised. Please contact us ASAP and an agent will assist you with reporting the fraudulent transactions and resetting your login information.

Its also important to keep in mind that while this company is showing on the charges, they are a victim as well. It's quite unlikely they are behind the fraud itself. Rather it would be the spoofers who gained access to your accounts.

I apologize for the inconvenience and will pass this information onto the necessary individuals for review.


Betamax was caught in a trap: Their terrible customer service has made the fraud charges highly believable, although they are not very plausible. Few people wondered how Betamax could have charged a Paypal account secretly a second time, when the customer only gave a one time authorization. Even more unlikely was the allegation that they charged people who didn't even know the company.

From where should they have had these credit card data?

It seems that the company and these poor people fell victim to a phising attack. But I have to repeat my claim to Betamax: Please be more open! Get a press department! Talk to your customers!

Don't leave room for conspiracy theories!

Facebook is so 2007!

People are, just, well, bored of social networks reports The Register, quoting comScore numbers, processed by Creative Capital.
The average length of time users spend on all of the top three sites is on the slide. Bebo, MySpace and Facebook all took double-digit percentage hits in the last months of 2007. December could perhaps be forgiven as a seasonal blip when people see their real friends and family, but the trend was already south.

The "user engagement" is dropping off, which should be of particular concern for the sales people struggling to turn these free services into profit-making businesses.
This time around, expect spinners to work on massaging the comScore figures, and happy-clappy bloggers to leap to social networking's defence by claiming the falls are sign of the market maturing, and of fierce competition. They could be right, but it still means that the individual business are not the goldmine their greedy backers slavered over.

On Facebook people "join, accumulate dozens of semi-friends, spy on a few exes for a bit, play some Scrabulous, get bored, then get on with your life, occasionally dropping in to respond to a message or see some photos that have been posted".

That's exactly what I did! I am nearly healed from the Facebook virus, just logging in once a week. Facebook is so 2007!

I love The Register for their expertise and vocabulary.

Happy Birthday, Markus Göbel's Tech News Comments!

One year ago I wrote my First blog post at Markus Göbel's Tech News Comments. I am very happy how it has developed and hope to see you all at The Mobile World Congress, 11 - 14 February in Barcelona. I will be there as a reporter for AreaMobile. Please leave a comment or drop me a line if you want to meet me!

To make money from mobile VoIP, companies have to accept certain realities

Jon Arnold has updated his very interesting portal website IP Convergence TV. This time I also wrote a guest opinion, because to make money from mobile VoIP companies have to accept certain realities: "WiFi isn't everywhere and callback costs double".

I love the mobile use of VoIP but I still find it quite uncomfortable. That's what I point out. Especially annoying is how Skype, Fring, Truphone and other SIP based VoIP services get blocked by German 3G providers. Sorry, Dean Bubley from Disruptive Analysys! The reality looks much darker for VoIPo3G than you predict for the future. (But thanks for your regular Google ads "3G mobile Voice over IP. Analyst report: is it a threat to carriers? Or a future opportunity?". I better put a direct link to your website.)

Mobile VoIP over Wifi works only at home or in the office where I don't need it. So in my guest opinion I advocate intelligent cell phone software which automatically completes calls as callback, callthrough, Vo3G or VoWifi while the user doesn't even notice. I have already installed an example software on a Nokia E61.

Maybe if more and more people use these options, Dean's dream will come true. If everyone uses only mobile callthrough, triggered by intelligent software on the handset, the mobile network operators cannot charge any other items than the tariff's included minutes for local calls. Their voice legacy cell phone networks would become dumb pipes into the internet, the way we already see it with the 3Skypephone or iSkoot, Ringfree, Mobivox, Jajah Direct, Sipbroker, Tpad, Rebtel, Mobiletalk, etc. If mobile operators wanted to charge for international calls at all, they would have to embrace VoIPo3G and could at least charge for data, the way Dean predicts it.

But until this comes true, the mobile VoIP companies should attack the incumbents with better callthrough options, to take more and more cell phone calls out of the traditional networks and into IP. Read the full text for further explanations!