Some time ago I was a Vonage customer. We had a Vonage line for my home office to compliment the POTS line that service the house. Our only internet access was via DSL over that POTS line.
We haven’t had a POTS line here since 2004.
While Vonage was a pioneer in what we now call-over-the-top internet telephony, for most of its existence the companies primary means of delivering service was by way of an “analog telephony adapter” or ATA. An ATA provides the RJ-11 connection required to connect to a traditional telephone.
Service providers using ATAs are essentially emulating the PSTN. It makes perfect sense since they want to offer an easy, drop-in replacement for traditional phone service. The advantage that they sell is simply that they’re cheaper. Most care little for esoterica like HDVoice.
To my surprise, back in February 2012 Vonage released a pair of smart phone apps. Framed as a service called Vonage Mobile these two mobile apps place a significant emphasis two factors; Free stuff and high-definition voice calling between mobile users.
Vonage Mobile does not require that you be an existing Vonage customer. Anyone can install and use the apps. In addition, there is a second app called Extensions that is specifically for Vonage residential users.
In his recent VUC appearance Doug Mohney of HDVoice News was very plain that activity in the mobile space is driving a significant amount of HDVoice progress. Clearly Vonage is not a player in the cellular space, but they are well positioned to deploy an over-the-top solution. Why not? World+Dog seems to be offering cheap/free calling via a smart phone app these days.
To start out, the apps themselves are free. Yawn. No big deal, right? There are tons of free apps for iPhone and Android. Some that even allow voice calls.
From the Vonage press release:
“Vonage Mobile uses the phone’s existing mobile number and contact list, eliminating the need for unique user names and duplicate identities for contacts. Users can instantly build a free global calling and texting network using the app’s multi-invite system from their existing contacts.”
Vonage Mobile is very clear that all calls between mobile apps are always free. OK, that’s to be expected, just as all “in-network” calls are usually free.
Now for the more interesting/unexpected bit; calls to PSTN destinations within the US, Canada and Puerto Rica are also free! Well, up to 3000 minutes/month.
What about the supporting HDVoice you ask?
“It combines the best of free high-def voice and messaging along with incredible value for traditional international calls, all while using the existing mobile number and address book for unsurpassed ease of use.”
The Vonage Mobile soft phone supports HDVoice by way of Google’s newly open-sourced iSac codec. iSac was originally created by GIPS, who were acquired by Google. GIPS included some very smart guys. In fact, iSac was the wideband codec that Skype used in their early years.
Please recall that iSac was supported by Gizmo5, which I have described previously. They too were consumed by the Google-monster. Further, iSac is one of the baseline codecs specified in the evolving WebRTC standard.
All this means that calls between these soft clients support 16 KHz sampling, providing the same kind of calling that we’ve come to expect from G.722. Unlike G.722, iSac operates at modest bit-rates of between 10 kbps and 32 kbps, making it more mobile friendly.
To enjoy a free wideband call you need to be placing your call from the Vonage Mobile app to another Vonage Mobile user. The easiest way to ensure this is to issue an invite to another person from within the Vonage mobile application. It will access your existing contacts allowing you to issue invites one at a time or en masse. The invites can be in the form of email or SMS.
Once we were correctly entered into each others contact lists we had a chat about Vonage Mobile. The call audio was very clearly in wideband. I would like to have recorded that chat but Vonage Mobile doesn’t currently support three-way calling, so I had no convenient way to intercept the call audio.
During that initial call both of us were on Wifi with our cell phones. To my ear the audio quality was as good as I might have hoped. James reported some packet loss in the other direction, but suspected that was due to heavy use of the Wifi in his office.
Wireless carriers have offered free domestic mobile-to-mobile calling for along time. Vonage Mobile extends this offer using an over-the-top approach that sweetens the deal by making it global in reach, and adding HDVoice quality. Beyond mobile-to-mobile calling, the further offer of 3000 min/month to the US, Canada and Puerto Rico for $0 has surely got to garner some attention.
So go forth and talk to each other…in HDVoice!