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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Truphone in the USA (and other VoIP considerations)

well, it seems that truphone is finally beyond their initial gathering of critical mass. now that they have users, their promotional rates are scheduled to go the way of the dodo.

before raeding on, note that i'm trying to use truphone to reduce my monthly mobile bill without international calls: i want VOIP TO BENEFIT FOR LOCAL CALLS.

for early adopters (anyone signed up before march 1st, 2008) they can continue to place 100% free calls in 40 countries, including all land and mobile phones in the USA. thats nice, since that's about 5-9's of my calls. this extended free calling rate ends in june 2008. it just makes sense, they cant give us 100% free calls forever...

so, the rates for new subscribers, or us early adopters come june (or if we choose to use the new plan) makes calls in the usa 3p, or roughly $0.06/min. 6 cents.

ok, so my particular plan with AT&T is old and more affordable than the newer ones, so lets compare to these current and available plans. $39.99 for 450 minutes, nationwide - with mobile to mobile within their network. lets pretend we dont call anyone in their network.

that comes out to 8.9 cents per minute (my antiquated plan gives me 6.7cents per minute). you have to pay that up front, so if you dont use all your minutes, your effective per minute cost increases. at least with roll-over its possible to consume an average of 450 minutes per month without ever paying overages, but you have to starting reaching the limit on your second month.

so, the BEST we can hope for is to consume our prepaid minutes entirely and exactly, and make our remaining calls using VoIP. assuming we can find a plan offering exactly 1/2 of our intended usage (in this case, 900 minutes intended) and that we can meter our usage perfectly (perhaps all inbound on GSM, outbound on VoIP with perfect in/out balance), then our final per minute cost drops in this manner:

$40 for 450 GSM minutes: @$0.089/min
$27 for 450 VoIP minutes: @$0.060/min
$67/month @ an average of $0.0745/min

aww, crap. heres a problem. for 900 minutes, we could just pay AT&T $60/month and go all GSM. that'd save us $7 a month and forgive us the grief of balancing our consumption across two providers. in other words, its a deal breaker, we're better off going with AT&T for the whole lot, and using truphone for international calls if/when they are needed.

ok, what about family plans? well in theory, one person could go full VoIP while the other consumed the intentionally paltry number of minutes in their selected plan. but why bother? if i'm in a family, and i get a family plan, then most of my calls will be within the family and therefore in network and free of charge.

there is another competitor: gizmo. gizmo is a bit less reliable, less quality, but it does work. the key feature: its cheaper. using the example above, but with gizmo's rates we get:

$40 for 450 GSM minutes: @$0.089/min
$8.55 450 VoIP minutes: @$0.019/min
$48.55/month @ an average of $0.054/min

compare this to AT&Ts 900 minute plan: $60 for 900 minutes = $0.0667/min --- this is about a 20% savings.

of course, to get here, we had to make assumptions about our usage.

1. i assumed all of our outbound calls are VoIP, and all VoIP calls are outbound
- this means that we pay for every minute of VoIP usage, rather than taking advantage of free inbound service
- it is realistic though, because getting people to call our VoIP numbers proves harder than it ought to be
- if we turned on call forwarding, from gizmo to gsm, we'd pay extra for any calls that are forwarded EVEN THOSE THAT END UP IN VOICEMAIL

2. i assumed that all inbound calls are GSM, and all GSM calls are inbound
- this means that we never take advantage of free inbound service (noted above)
- this is realistic, as noted above most people want to call 1 number to reach us, so this allows them to do so
- if anyone does call our VoIP number, there is a good chance it terminates in gizmo voicemail, or forwards at an EXTRA 2 cents per minute - we dont want that, so we dont give out the number

now, we COULD forward our GSM calls to our VoIP number... this gets trickier and will almost certainly burn minutes on our GSM plan. i'm currently experimenting with this to see how AT&T handles forwarding setup in my nokia n95.

the points of interest are:
1. using fring, i can connect to gizmo even through EDGE data
2. inbound calls, when i'm on EDGE, cannot terminate on my handset in gizmo, because the phone rings and EDGE data connections drop during voice communications
3. fring manages wifi and gsm data connections quite well, so when i roam into wifi coverage, fring is still happy.

i'll post more when i have it - but it will be interesting to see if i can get cheaper calling than AT&T intends to provide.

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