Tuesday I had my first opportunity to try out the Jajah mashup working inside iotum’s Talk-Now New Presence application (demo here) on a Blackberry 8xxx (including Pearl and the newly announced Curve 8300). While calls can be easily established via the Talk-Now client (i) there is a need to understand your own carrier’s rate plans, especially roaming charges, in order to determine where there is an cost advantage and (ii) there are some call quality issues but not sufficient to inhibit its use it where there is significant cost advantage.
First point to make is that this mashup only works from Contacts whom you have included in your Talk-Now list of contacts. However, you can readily add any of your Blackberry Address Book Contacts into your Talk-Now Contacts. Understanding this aspect, one finds an option for making a Jajah call amongst the Call Menu options within Talk-Now. Click on the "Jajah Call:" line and the call is automatically established. There is a short delay, with an advisory dialog box, while Jajah calls back to your phone and then makes the connection out to your called Contact but this is by far the best user experience I have encountered for one of these "native long distance bypass" services.
(i) But here’s where one must watch the resulting costs: Jajah is a service where calls to other Jajah subscribers are free. It has a basic cost of 3 to 5 cents per minute for calls to the PSTN within North America or to landlines in most countries outside North America. As is common with all plans, including SkypeOut, much higher rates apply to calls to mobile phones outside North America.
However, there can also be costs for the basic wireless connection, based on the carrier’s rate plan. For instance, even though my Rogers service sees the call as an incoming call, they only have certain rate plans that include unlimited incoming calls (and mine is not one of those). So these calls are charged against my basic wireless service minutes.
Where I need to be much more wary is when I go outside the country — at that point I am charged the Roaming charge of $0.95 per minute for calls from the U.S. and $2.00 (or more) per minute for calls from outside U.S./Canada. In Summary:
- long distance calls within Canada are reduced from $0.10 – $0.30 per minute (depending on the carrier’s long distance plan subscribed) to <$0.04 per minute plus connection time;
- long distance calls from Canada to many European landlines are reduced from a minimum of $0.06 per minute (if on a Rogers International Saver Plan @ $7.00 per month) to <$0.04 per minute.
- roaming calls placed from the U.S. are reduced from a total of $1.25 per minute to ~$0.98 per minute (a 20% reduction)
Check with your own carrier and the Jajah rate page to determine the savings available.
(ii) The other issue I raise is call quality. While much better than the original VoIP services, there is still a slightly noticeable latency with these calls such that the normal flow of conversation can have "pregnant pauses" while waiting for the other party to respond. In addition the voice quality itself is not quite up to the crystal clear quality of a Truphone or Skype-to-Skype call; it has a certain "tininess". Yet it is certainly as good as, if not better than, the voice quality I often encounter on standard GSM wireless calls and is of sufficient quality to carry on a reasonable conversation, especially if it is a personal call in a relatively quiet background environment.
In conclusion the Talk-Now – Jajah mashup provides a window into the world of potentially lower cost mobile long distance calling over GSM networks but it still needs some work to make it a replacement for, say, Truphone over WiFi or Skype over broadband Internet (or maybe T-Mobile’s rumored to be coming HotSpot@Home?), at locations where these services are available. And, combined with Talk-Now’s contextual presence features you at least know if the party whom you are calling is available, provided s/he is also using Talk-Now.
If you have a Blackberry 8xxx, sign up here for the free Talk-Now beta and here for a Jajah account, give it a try and leave your feedback in the comments.
One final comment: given the architecture of the Jajah network, this Talk-Now – Jajah mashup should not be confused with a VoIP over GSM service as there is no VoIP client processing packets within the mobile device. And it does not change the issues inhibiting a Skype over GSM mobile.
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