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VOIP Cell Phones Coming Soon 138

prostoalex writes "Associated Press reports on the latest cell phones with WiFi support demoed at this year's CTIA Wireless 2006 conference. New models fall back to WiFi hotspot when the user is at home, at work, or cellular signal gets too weak. Biggest surprise? The cell phone conversation is not dropped when the switch between cellular network and WiFi hotspot takes place."
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VOIP Cell Phones Coming Soon

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  • by JoeLinux ( 20366 ) <> on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:29AM (#15097818) Homepage
    Maybe it's just me, but I would think that the preference would be for wifi first, THEN cellular. You'd burn less minutes that way.

    But, heck, what do I know? I still think that that coyote is gonna get that RoadRunner some day.
  • Phone number (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:34AM (#15097831)
    Having your cell phone connected through VoIP while at home is all well and good, but what about your phone number? When someone calls your cell number, it's going to have to get switched over to the internet (rather than the cellular network) to get through to your phone. That's going to require help from the carriers, and they probably aren't too happy about this.
  • Re:Phone number (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Elminst ( 53259 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:40AM (#15097846) Homepage
    Most likely, the phones would be polled every few minutes to see what they're attached to.
    In much the same way that the cell towers check to see if your phone is still within range when you're not using it. This is the reason your phone sets off your speakers or makes your monitor twitch randomly

    So the system sends out a signal to find the phone based on its last known location. Or the phone checks in with the system every few minutes to give an update on how to reach it.

    Doesn't sound like much of a stretch from the current method of locating a cell phone.
  • Re:Phone number (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:41AM (#15097847)
    or if you set up an asterisk box at home, dont hand out your cell phone number, and have all the switching take place at your asterisk box, forwardning calls to your mobile via wifi or GMS depending on whatever condition you set.
  • by ImaNihilist ( 889325 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:41AM (#15097848)
    Something to piss off the big phone companies even more. Once Qwest gets bought out there will only be two left: Verizon and AT&T. Add in the two big broadband providers, Comcast and AOL TimeWarner and you've got a grand total of four companies that will control everything. You better believe that if most voice communications go VoIP/broadband that they are going to have their annual meeting behind closed doors a little early to discuss how everyone needs to start charging a per GB monthly fee for data. Sure, they'll do it under the guise of "extra" speed and lower prices. "Get Comcast Highspeed for just $19.99* per month! 15Mbps speeds! *$19.99 for the first 10GB and just $1 per GB after that" Pft.
  • Re:Phone number (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @04:30AM (#15097929)
    How about the same person that would pay for the rest of your TCP/IP traffic.
  • I really liked how the people interviewed in the article kept saying something like "consumers might expect calling over wi-fi would be free". As if they were somehow being unreasonable or uninformed.

    As far as I'm concerned real wi-fi phones which don't even let your carrier know how many wi-fi minutes you are using can't come soon enough. I hate the high prices, ridiculous options and general blood sucking (prices for ringtones) and can't wait till they are the ones begging the technology companies to include support for their off wi-fi network you use when you leave the city or have at least started offering wi-fi type service in cities.

    Ultimately of course the upshot of all of this is that we will be paying more for DSL/landline phones as well as for remote cell phone service. In both the landline phone market and the cell phone market massive fixed costs are amortized over a huge number of phone calls. The fixed line phone calls then in effect subsidize DSL service (the phone companies make money on it but wouldn't if they had to do all the maintence/set up the phone lines just for DSL). Similarly all the cellphone calls made in big cities subsidize building cell phone towers in more rural locations. As the distinction between different sorts of data transmission inevitably disappears the price per unit of reasonably low latency Kb must equalize. I mean it really is absurd that it is cheaper to use your phone line for DSL and utilize Skype than it is to call on a real phone. This will force the price of DSL up as it becomes less subsidized by phone calls and the existance of Wi-Fi phones will remove the ability of the cell companies to subsidize the less used more rural towers (unless of course they are just doing things in a really inefficent fashion compared to google/earthlink in SF)

    At least this is what happens if the DSL prices aren't constrained by local laws, in which case we will just see more tricks trying to offer tiered access charging for cell phone use (instead of by Mb) or other stupid money generating tricks.
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @04:47AM (#15097957)
    If you read the article you will notice that this is aimed at saving costs for the mobile companies themselfs, NOT the users.

    Notice that the "seamless transition" from of having your mobile communicating over the mobile network to having it use the WiFi network requires a server on the mobile network to support it.

    The point here is that many mobile companies also own WiFi hotspot networks. With this kind of phone available they will be able to re-use those networks for mobile coverage, thus freeing more slots on the mobile network (and/or requiring less towers). Commercial WiFi hotspots are typically installed in areas with many potential users around (airports, train-stations, city centers) which are also the areas more congested in terms of mobile calls traffic, thus the potential for savings are very big. If they can get people to also use their own private WiFi hotspots at some, even beter for them.

    Maybe some savings will be passed on to the consumers or maybe not. As always, companies try to make as much money as possible, thus they will only pass the savings on to consumers (via reduced prices) if:
    a) They still make more money out of it. So for example, expect cheaper (but not free) "home" minutes if you use your own personal WiFi hotspot.
    b) They are being squezed by other technologies and need to reduce prices in order to stay competitive.

    Hopefully the technology will be implemented in such a way that it might be possible to use it WITHOUT support from the side of the mobile network operator. Quite possibly this first generation won't support it out-of-the-box. Don't expect quite a seamless transition of calls between networks though.
  • by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:42AM (#15098250) Homepage
    Good Lord, combining all three of these frustrating technologies together. VOIP, which in my experience, is choppy and unreliable; cellular service, which is generally poor, and getting worse as they cram more calls into the same bandwidth; and wireless, which never lives up to it's speed/distance claims. The cell phone companies can't seem to pull off not dropping calls between freaking cell towers, how can they promise calls won't be dropped with this technology.

    I'm pretty skeptical as to how well this will work.

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:34AM (#15098378) Homepage Journal
    I think you misunderstand the technology, which isn't surprising given the article summary.

    First, yes, the preference is for calls to be routed via Wifi.

    However, no, you don't burn less minutes. The technology under discussion is called UMA. It's a way of tunnelling GSM over 802.11 or Bluetooth (or presumably other future home wireless standards.) The phone call still has to be routed to your carrier (only, over the Internet rather than via the carrier's towers) otherwise your call would get dropped the moment you get out of range of your wireless network.

    This is not the same thing as those mobile phones that also support Skype (for example) over 802.11. It's essentially a way for GSM subscribers to make their own home have less coverage blackspots (and help the carrier gain a little more capacity.) Your call costs may go down (or rather, the amount of minutes you get for your dollar may increase), because by doing this you're increasing capacity for the network, but it's possible a carrier will give you "free airtime" when you're in range of your wireless network, generally that's not the way they operate.

    There is one major downside BTW, which is that in order to use an access point, it has to be registered with the carrier, and generally you need to manually tell the phone about it (once, obviously, not every time you get in range.) So don't think people are just going to set up ad-hoc wireless networks in well known blackspots just to help Cingular and T-Mobile customers out.

  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:52AM (#15098425) Journal
    I assume that those minutes over wifi aren't going to be free. The call still has to enter the carriers network at some point and they aren't going to invest in this if there is no monetary incentive for them. So if they aren't free, what's the incentive for a consumer to have their calls go over their house wifi instead of using the tower then? What happens when their kid is running bittorrent and clogging up the line?
  • by Art Popp ( 29075 ) * on Monday April 10, 2006 @10:30AM (#15098775)
    The carriers are very happy about this, but, as others have observed the fact that it's VOIP doesn't mean it's "anybody's VOIP" that it works with.

    The UMA data network simply allows the carrier turn any WiFi access point into an additional cell tower on their network. The advantage for the consumer, discounted minutes at home. The advantage for the carrier fewer expensive cell towers to cover the same number of people.

    In many demographics 40% of people's cellphone calls are made from home. It will be a tremendous savings in standard GSM spectrum to move 40% of the traffic to the 2.4Ghz band.

    For the consumer, if your plan had 1000 minutes a month GSM, and an additional 1000 minutes a month over UMA then would you really need to hand $20 a month to a voip carrier? If you spend less than an hour a day talking on the phone, and you make 50% of your calls from home, the answer is no.

    UMA phones will let you initiate and receive calls on either the GSM or Wifi networks. UMA phones are designed to hand the call seamlessly between networks. I've used one. They're pretty cool.
  • by LeeMeador ( 924391 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @01:19PM (#15099671)
    Face it. There is no reason talking on the phone for one minute should cost more than sending and receiving 500K of data. That uses the old way of converting voice to data--64K bits per second. (64,000 bps * 60 secs/min / 8 bits per byte = 480,000 bytes/min)

    It is, after all, just data going from point A to point B (and coming back). I don't know the current numbers but, back in the 90's, voice only consumed a few percent of the total of the transferred data.

    The network should be good enough to get the data moved in a reasonable time frame.

    The devices to convert what the microphone picks up to data packets should not be expensive to buy.

    The monthly payment to your ISP should cover the data transfer, even if it is digital voice.

    The use of compression should reduce the bandwidth needed by a factor of six (but I'm no expert). That's what I read.

    In the US, we add a little bit to our phone bill to subsidize people who live in rural areas. They need longer wires and such than the city folks. That shouldn't add too much to the bill.

    The only justification for phone service costing more than that is that we will pay it. It's a classic concept of dividing the market into groups of customers. Some will pay more than others for the same service. You work out a way to get more from those who will pay it while still charging less for those who won't pay more.

    Its a tricky thing to work out. The ones who pay more may resist paying more if they know someone else is paying less.

    But we have business phones and personal phones and business pays more but they don't really get more. Their phones don't work any better. They don't get extended hours of use. They just pay more for the same thing because they will.

    Somehow we have gotten into a situation where the data containing voices costs us more to tranfer than data containing photos or music or email or accounts payable. There is no good reason but the marketers have got us to believe it should be that way.

    I think all we are seeing is a market upheaval caused by some people rejecting that premise and others selling stuff to facilitate sending voice data for less.

    I should pay an ISP to accept bits from me and transfer them to wherever I want them to go. Some other ISPs will be accepting bits from someone else and sending them to me. For that, they should pay. It's just a messenger service. If they have to subcontract with backbone providers, so be it. They have to charge me enough to take care of that.

    I think the "magic" of the technology hides the simple realities from most consumers.

    And that's enough babbling for now.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!