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Nokia 770 gains free VoIP calls to landlines, cellphones

Jul 21, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

[Updated Jul. 25] — Gizmo softphone provider SIPphone is offering free calls to the landlines and mobile phones of other active Gizmo users, in 60 countries. The standards-based Gizmo softphone is… available for the Linux-based Nokia 770 Internet Tablet and common desktop OSes.

(Click for larger view of Gizmo for the 770, which shipped last week)

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Unlike a similar announcement from VoIP marketshare leader Skype, which will offer free call-out through 2007, SIPphone's free call deal has no expiration date. SIPphone's founder, Michael Robertson, says that in addition to responding to Skype's move, the Gizmo deal is calculated to “encourage the network effect,” since free calls are only possible between active Gizmo users.

Speaking with LinuxDevices via Gizmo's VoIP network, Robertson said, “We're at war with proprietary systems like Skype. We're based on the open SIP standard, and we'll 'peer' with anyone. We believe companies should compete on level-of-service and product quality, rather than lock-in.”

Robertson believes that while Skype currently has a wide lead among VoIP service providers, its position is far from consolidated. “Nokia, the world's largest handset maker, is showing a real openness to SIP and Linux. One of the real possibilities is if Nokia ships phones with SIP-based VoIP built in,” Robertson said.

Currently, however, Nokia's shipping fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) devices appear to be based on UMA (unlicensed mobile access), a 3GPP standard for cellular/WiFi convergence said to enable customers to use the same phone number on both networks, at the expense of limiting them to Nokia-blessed CPE (customer premises equipment).

Robertson says SIPphone can already do better, through its Area 775 program, which provides a no- or low-cost “call-in” number that can be configured to concurrently ring the user's softphone and landline or mobile phone.

Meanwhile, MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), which tend to be more aggressive about new features than more established carriers and operators, are increasingly offering cellphones with built-in VoIP capabilities. One recent example is French MVNO Neuf, which offers the Linux-based Twin GSM/WiFi phone for as little a 1 Euro with an extended contract.

Robertson clearly expects dual-mode phones to proliferate. “When these WiFi-enabled devices become commonplace, the question you have to ask is, is it closed or open? If it's closed, that adds little value for the customer. If open, it adds enormous value,” he said.

Another hot area for VoIP adoption, currently, is the corporate or university campus. Robertson said SIPphone is working with a large, unnamed Midwestern U.S. university on a special version of its Gizmo Project server designed to integrate with a Java-based authentication system, enabling the university to offer VoIP service to all incoming students this September.

Robertson earlier promoted free inter-university VoIP calls through his “Robertson Education Empowerment Foundation” (REEF) non-profit, but the program “has not gained traction like we hoped it would,” he admits.

Robertson is currently optimistic about the potential of Gizmo project software on Nokia 770's Internet tablet. He says his company, SIPphone, worked with Nokia and the open source Maemo software project for 10 months, on a variety of fronts. “It wasn't an easy thing to do,” he said.

Robertson explained, “The 770 has a small fraction of the processing power of a normal desktop, so we had to very wisely tap into the APIs. Our engineers also worked closely on Maemo's media streaming engine, gstreamer, and on debugging the microphone APIs.”

“We're very proud, because it was not just a little hack,” Robertson added.

Asked whether Gizmo for the 770 has received a lot of downloads, Robertson characterizes the number as “some,” rather than many. “A lot of 770 users do not have the new OS [story] yet. As more upgrade, we should see more downloads, because we're actually built into some of the menus,” he said.

Thanks to a high-profile deal with Google, the Nokia 770's new Tablet OS 2006 also comes stock with a VoIP client that offers free calls between users registered with Google GMail or other Jabber-based services. However, the 770's GTalk/Jabber client offers few advanced features, such as call-in and call-out.

Currently, SIPphone and its Gizmo project have 700,000 registered users, according to Robertson. Skype, in comparison, surpassed a million users in 2003, its first year, and in addition to distributing softphones, sells VoIP software used in consumer VoIP phones from Belkin, Edge-Core, NetGear, SMC, and others.

Robertson is clearly a big fan of the 770 Internet Tablet. His venture have also worked on an Internet music client for the 770. And, Robertson's homepage currently features an essay about the prospects and potential of the Nokia 770.

For more about the 770, see our complete Device Profile:

Device Profile: Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

An article about using a Gizmo-enabled Nokia 770 as a baby monitor or espionage device can be found here.

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