On a recent trip to Spain, where I turned off my BlackBerry Bold’s and iPhone’s mobile carrier network connection except when really required, I was able to use WiFi connections at my various hotels quite effectively to keep up with my “data” activities on these devices. (Except in a situation mentioned below I used Skype on my PC for voice calls.) But there were two situations I encountered during this trip which really hit home the message that WiFi is becoming as important as mobile carrier offerings for wireless smartphone communications:
- In one instance, two Canadians, who had stealthed Skype for iPhone onto their iPhones, used a Spanish hotel’s WiFi service to make Skype voice calls between each other, almost as if their iPhones were “walkie-talkies” while on the hotel’s grounds. No roaming charges for these calls.
- In another case, I spent one night in a hotel room, in a recently renovated 8th century building, that had no landline. But it had a WiFi service available; I used Truphone on my iPhone to make a couple of voice calls. (The price of staying “legal” in Canada is not to have Skype for iPhone installed.)
The trip, combined with my WiFi experience during a March vacation trip to South Carolina, significantly reinforced my belief that WiFi is becoming the potential “stealth” carrier in the smartphone communications business. But what does that portend for the future?
Friend Andy Abramson, in a post Rumored New Apple iPod Touch Will Be Huge for VoIP, Multimedia, has pointed to the rumors of a new iPod Touch that will include a camera, a built-in microphone and 64GB of memory:
This is awesome news for the likes of Skype and client Truphone and will likely start a flood of “me too” applications from the likes of Cablevision who operates a WiFi hot zone in the New York area, Clearwire and Comcast who are chasing customers in the Portland area with WiMax and elsewhere as the WiFi capability of the iPod touch means its a mobile phone without the mobile phone bill and contract connected to it, something Jeff Belk, the former Senior VP of Strategy at Qualcomm discussed in Unstrung in February of this year.
And where does he see the disruptive uptake?
…. Within two key categories:
1) Pre-teens who need a phone but can’t afford a contract
2) Travelers who don’t need to be “always on” but want to stay in touch cost effectively.
Who benefits from this? Anyone with a travel router to sell, including Apple. Toss a travel router in your bag, and stay in a hotel with wired broadband to your room, and logging on is a snap.
As pointed out in the introduction to this post, I think I was already well into Andy’s category 2 during my Spain trip. Alec Saunders, in Will the new iPod Touch unleash VoWiFi? I’ll wait and see, sees WiFi as a “backup” to 3G network but pipes into the road warrior discussion with:
Travelling, however, is a different story. As Andy notes, you can talk for free on WiFi when you’re travelling, versus whatever the outrageous roaming rate that your carrier might charge. Savvy travelers use products like Truphone and Skype to avoid roaming charges.
Bottom line: users will continue to look for the combination of access and cost that serves their immediate need. While in Canada, I never run over 1GB of data on my BlackBerry Bold and have a reasonable cost voice subscription for voice calls; thus my mobile carrier costs are not a particular concern. But when I leave Canada, I will look to use any wireless service that avoids the last bastion of excessively high mobile calling costs: roaming charges.
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