In 1990, I invented Call Back, a means of routing telephone calls through the United States who at the time was the only country who had liberalized its telecom sector and its long distance rates where a third of those overseas.

Call Back was what drove Viatel during its first years of existence. Viatel later evolved to become the company to build a fiber optic network throughout Europe in anticipation of the liberalization of telecommunications. In 1999, when I sold my shares in Viatel, the company was worth over a billion dollars. After selling Viatel I came to the conclusing that tariffication per minute was about to die. My next companies, Jazztel and Ya.com were oriented more towards the Internet than telephones. But it seems that my call for the death of the minute in telecoms came too early. We are in 2007 and still the most profitable sector of telecommunications, companies like Movistar and Vodafone consists in ripping their customers off charging per minute, rather than flat rates as DSL operators do. And that is why numerous companies continue to arise with the desire to exploit the per minute business of VolP services for cell phones.

Many start ups offer this service. I’ve prepared a short summary of the available options. Personally, I’m happy with fring. Fring is great if you have certain Nokia models. I use the N80 and get to combine my Nokia contacts with Skype, IM and Google Talk and talk for free to many of these or through Skype which is cool cause Skype is not on Symbian yet. Other than having Fring on my Nokia, I also have one of the phones that Skype sells to FON. The Skype phone’s weakness is that FON is still not as widely spread as it will become but other than that it works great and it costs 70% less than the Nokia.

What follows is my research on what else is there in the market.

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In the first place, we can differentiate between those services that offer direct calls (fring, Truphone, Skype Mobile, Gizmo Project and those that use callback, requiring you to first connect to a server (Nimbuzz, Jajah, and Talkster). With Fring, for example, all you have to do is enter the number that you want to call and hit send. Talkster, on the other hand, only completes your call once a connection to the system has been established. iSkoot is a particular case: it’s the only service that works using the standard H.323, connecting to users through a VolP-enabled PC.

In general, iSkoot and this first group of options require the user to install free software into his or her cell phone. The second group, however, functions differently. Nimbuzz and Talkster can make calls without having a special program installed in the phone. Jajah, on the other hand, requires you to connect to its portal: you enter the number there and Jajah completes the call.

Also important is the location and equipment necessary for the use of each service. Fring, Truphone and Skype Mobile can be used in any Wi-Fi area. fring can be installed in all models of Symbian 8 and 9, Truphone uses Nokia’s E Series and Skype Mobile the “Skype Wi-Fi Phone”, Nokia N800 and WM. Within the second group (which also includes iSkoot) none of the services are compatible with Wi-Fi. Nimbuzz works in places with available local access numbers, and connects to the network through any WAP or J2ME device. Jajah and Talkster use WAP telephones, and iSkoot uses the Nokia N73 and Sony W950 models.

The services can also be distinguished by their interoperability with VolP services for PCs. Fring can operate with many platforms. Truphone operates using GTalk, while Skype Mobile and iSkoot only use Skype. Within the second group, Nimbuzz and Talkster operate with Gtalk and MSN, while Jajah uses neither. Fring, Nimbuzz, Skype Mobile and iSkoot also have additional chat services and presence-control technologies. Talkster offers the latter. Truphone and Jajah lack both.

Another comparison point is the price of the devices and their network requirements. Fring, Jajah, Talkster and iSkoot need 2.5G (GRPS) or 3G plans to complement WiFi. Nimbuzz works with 2.5G and the rest of them have no special requirements. Calls between users of the same service and services that work in conjunction are generally free, except in certain cases with Jajah and Talkster (the cases are variable) as well as iSkoot (for which the annual cost is about 10 US dollars). On the other hand, while neither fring, Skype, nor Nimbuzz consume GSM minutes, the rest of the services do. For calls on the public network (PSTN), fring, Skype Mobile and iSkoot (although not all versions) use SkypeOut. Truphone, Jajah and Talkster also allow these types of calls, while Nimbuzz only works between cell phones and from cell phones to PCs.

I would like to emphasize that Rebtel is the company of my friend Hjalmar Windblad. Rebtel is perfect for international calls and for people who do not want to buy a new phone as it works on all mobile phones. For example, if you live in Spain but your parents are in Argentina (my case), you go to Rebtel, obtain a number in Buenos Aires and authorize the number to ring in your cell phone or landline in Spain. Then, every time that your parents want to call you they dial your number in Buenos Aires, a local number, and your phone in Spain will ring. And you will only have to pay the cost of a local call made in Spain. The downside of Rebtel is having to change your number, but the upside is that people prefer to dial a number in their own city and not an international number.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Tim C on March 5, 2007  · 

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