Friday Update II – Struggling to Break the Mobile Oligopoly

[Yes, I know it’s Sunday! But I started to write this up Friday.]

The past couple of weeks has seen much higher visibility for attempts to duplicate the landline long distance calling revolution generated by VoIP technology in the wireless space.

First Jajah launched Jajah Mobile at DEMO Fall 2006, where a Jajah client on your mobile phone redirects any calls starting with, say, “+” or “00” via a VoIP-enabled backend. Your cell phone sends dialling instructions via either a SMS message or a GPRS over-the-air data service to trigger calls which bridge your phone and the called party. The beauty of this plan is that it does allow you to continue using the standard dialling algorithm; however, there can be a 20 to 30 second pause while the bridge is established. Almost simple but not all the way there. Alec Saunders provides a more detailed discussion; Russell Shaw has nine reasons why it is not a threat to neither mobile carriers nor VoIP service providers; Luca agrees; Alec rebuts.

In a trial using my Jajah-supported Nokia N70, I found that the GPRS/EDGE/3G connection worked whereas via the SMS service it did not perform satisfactorily. It does have a problem recognizing that long distance calls to within North America (“+1”) should be handled via Jajah. They have assumed a U.S.-centric model where it is probably just as cost effective to use the various fixed monthly rate all-you-can-use plans available through U.S. mobile carriers; the Canadian mobile space is one where we still pay 10 to 25 cents per minute for long distance calls outside a local calling area. With their primary focus on the U.S. market Jajah Mobile sends all North American calls via the underlying wireless service, not the Jajah Mobile backend. To correct this they need to differentiate between US and Canadian phone numbers. (This is easily done; Skype users may note that flags associated with “+1” phone numbers differentiate between Canadian and US area codes.) Calls using the SMS connection need some more work by the Jajah people to get the software right; Alec tells me they are aware of the issue and working on it.

Another service introduced at DEMO Fall 2006, Grand Central, offers “One Number for Life” designed to aggregate all your phone activities, including voice mail, ring tones, call blocking, call redirection and call recording. Unfortunately since it’s only available in certain area codes in the U.S. the economic argument only works in the U.S. However, to get two sides of the picture read the comments by Alec Saunders, Andy Abramson who thinks “it rocks“; Ken Camp and Ted Wallingford who basically remind us not to forget the basics of consumer telephony and the potential of Voice 2.0 for the sustainability of its value-add. Ted sums it up with:

We need to focus on increasing ACTUAL functionality and lose the obsession with placing band-aids on the infrastructure of yesterday in order to save a half-cent a minute, which is the basis of these firms’ business models. When clients ask me about VoIP, they always bring up carrier cost savings. That may’ve been the case in 2001, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to make that case. So I switch them off of cost savings and turn them on to new ways of thinking about communications.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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