Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wifi vs VoIP

Before Christmas I had a conversation with some former colleagues of mine. We had all worked for the same wireless operator, and most of them still do.

During that conversation one of them said, that he thinks that VoIP over Wifi will replace GSM because its cheaper.
I begged to differ:

His line of thought was, that Wifi is cheap and now that PDAs and phones do support voice over Wifi (e.g. Skype).
Everybody, he said, will switch to PDAs with Skype getting access from cheap local hot spots. GSM (or rather managed/operated voice and networks) will cease to exist.

To me there are several obvious flaws in this reasoning:

Wifi is not cheap.
Granted there are free (as beer and as in speech) hot-spots (like fon, but only a very limited number of them.
Commercial hot-spots charge horrendous amounts per hour/day...
T-mobile in Austria charges 1€/min or 8€/hour; A1/mobilkom is even more expensive

Wifi is not easy to configure
Well, maybe it is on the mac, but not on Phones and PDAs. To be clear, it's still easy to configure the pure Wifi/radio stuff, to get access to the
small network at the hot-spot, but that usually does not give you internet access beyond the hot-spot. In order to get that, most sites force you through some web authentication to be able to charge you.
Repeat for each location where you want to place a call.
Don't even consider a handover (like you are used to on the mobile)

Wifi is not easy to find
Forget all the finder services and icons and logos and what not. You still have to look for it.
GSM/3G you don't have to look for.
It's just there.

I wouldn't want my proverbial mother to have to configure a Wifi phone (not even my real one).
Nor do I want to have to educate her on the usage of the phone...

The transition from the good old fixed line phone to the mobile was difficult for many people, but essentially the only real change was, that you have to press the green button after you keyed in the numbers.
That's it. Ah, end yes, you no longer needed a cable.

Consider all the changes between the classical telephone sytem (including the mobile) and VoIP/Skype over Wifi.
It's more then just the green button. You have to register with several operators, you have various accounts...
So most people just wont follow you there.

Granted, it is possible, and to (us) techies it is a viable option, but only as long as we can cope with the service and usage limitations.

There is really no technical limit: Wifi can transport voice with top quality (provided the hotspot provider knows his stuff)
It's really just the people.

Wifi phone services do work already.
They can also work for my mother, but only stationary, i.e. replace the phone at home by a Wifi service.
My point is only about mobile networks, not about fixed line or home installations.

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