Why carriers didn't want to allow 3G VoIP before. And why they're now setting it free

I’ve used VoIP apps on the past few iterations of of the iPhone as well as a number of other devices including some from Nokia, HTC, and Samsung. Those apps always only worked over WiFi and have mostly worked as advertised. Experience shows that if there’s one thing cellular companies are good at it’s ensuring a call can get from point A to point B (although AT&T has been sucking wind lately). It’s what they’ve been doing for almost two decades.

Now that Apple has lifted the ban VoIP over 3G – note it is Apple lifting these restrictions, not AT&T – you have to wonder what’s going on. Won’t 3G tear down the network around our ears? Won’t dogs and cats start living together?

Absolutely not. First, most international carriers have used 3G for calls for years, if not decades. When I was working as a telecoms consultant, back when WAP was a big roll-out, we already had 3G provisioning systems. Heck, some of my former colleagues were preparing video calling before America even knew how to spell Skype.

Why wasn’t it broadly used until now? Because carriers hadn’t stress-tested the network nor did they have billing methods in place. Thankfully, the iPhone 3G did most of the work for them, ensuring them that even under heavy use conditions most networks can survive intact.

Despite AT&T’s inability to hold a connection for more than a minute, 3G over VoIP adds a negligible amount of load to the 3G network and, more important, is billable. In an era of $29 unlimited plans, carriers can’t make money on regular old calls.

They can, however, make money on 3G data, especially in roaming. Anyone who’s ever been bit in the hindquarters by a massive roaming bill will know that data is precious. You can buy a 300MB roaming plan on AT&T for $59 or else pay thousands off plan. That’s 300MB. People are so used to always-on Internet that 300MB of 3G can be eaten up in a few days time, resulting in a quick flurry of SMSes to remind you that the meter is still running. While the average person eventually gives up and turns 3G off, the road warrior sees no need: after all, he’s not paying. In the end, you have a delightful group of roaming businessmen with five-figure cellphone bills.

Is this always the case? No. But it’s definitely on someone’s balance sheet at most carriers. Think of it as business class for wireless – there are plenty of folks who fly coach, but if you have a couple of suckers with an expense account, why not charge them a few thousand more for a glass of bubbly and a warm dinner?

Apple Lifts 3G VoIP Restrictions, iCall with 3G Support Available Immediately

iCall VoIP services for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch are now available for use over 3G networks such as AT&T wireless.

GREENWICH, Conn., Jan. 27 /PRNewswire/ — Apple Computer, Inc. has updated the iPhone developer SDK to allow VoIP over cellular networks. iCall is the first and only VoIP application that functions on the iPhone and iPod Touch over cellular 3G networks.

iCall is a market leader in desktop and mobile-based desktop calling platforms, including its highly popular version for the Apple iPhone. Until today, restrictions imposed on developers prohibited VoIP functionality on any 3G network.

VoIP on the iPhone has been the source of many debates with companies such as Google being denied access to the platform and the FCC inquiring as to the restrictions in the Apple App Store; iCall is one of the few VoIP applications that has been permitted by Apple to operate on the iPhone platform.

With the latest revisions Apple has made to the iPhone developer agreement and Software Development Kit, iCall for the iPhone and iPod Touch now enabled unrestricted free local and long distance calling over 3G data networks. iCall with support for VoIP over 3G networks is now available in the App Store for download. iCall is the first and only VoIP application available for the iPhone platform that allows use over 3G networks. iCall for the iPhone and iPod Touch may now be downloaded from the App Store here.

iCall CEO Arlo Gilbert is quoted as saying, “I applaud Apple’s decision to allow iCall to extend its functionality beyond Wi-Fi and onto the 3G networks. This heralds a new era for VoIP applications on mobile platforms, especially for iCall and our free calling model. I hope that now more developers will begin using our VoIP as a platform to integrate VoIP into their applications.”

About iCall, Inc.:
iCall is a privately held company providing a free and low-cost VoIP calling platform that is currently available for your desktop PC, iPhone and iPod Touch. iCall saves consumers money on phone calling through ad-supported calling.

iCall was founded in 2005 by Arlo Gilbert and Andy Muldowney with the goal of providing low and no-cost calling services to consumers. In January 2006, iCall first released its iCall Free Calling desktop application. iCall’s free calling network now boasts over more than 4 million unique downloads.
In addition to consumer products, iCall offers wholesale VoIP solutions and a developer platform through iCall Carrier Services. iCall’s private network carries over 350 million minutes of voice traffic per month to destinations around the globe.