Tuesday, March 20, 2012



By PAUL WAFULA pwafula@ke.nationmedia.com
Posted Tuesday, March 20 2012 at 00:00
Mobile subscribers looking to beat the high cost of local and international phone calls will soon have a new weapon at their disposal — applications.

Developers are increasingly rolling out apps that make it free to call and text anywhere around the world, a phenomenon that will potentially disrupt traditional revenue streams for mobile service providers.

Most of these apps offer free calling services in a bid to get numbers to make money from advertisement. Although they have yet to make major inroads in Kenya, the trend is steadily gaining currency in the developed world and industry players say they expect them to be the next interface to calling in the coming technology generation.

In Kenya, the threat posed by the apps will come in the wake of an aggressive price war that has halved the earnings of mobile service providers. But it is the willingness of phone makers to allow the developers to use their platforms to roll out the services that stands as the biggest force that will drive these apps.

“The world will go local and this means that there must be ways to have locally relevant content for each market and there is no better way than through applications,” said Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop.

“This is why we are looking for ways to distribute these applications easily and fast. We see a time when we shall be able to share the apps from phone to phone free of charge using Bluetooth or other technology,” said Mr Elop at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

However, it is important to note that most apps rely on mobile companies offering data services to connect their users. Most are dependent on availability of Internet connection.

Consequently, consumers will only be able to fully benefit from these services if the current data prices fall and if the smartphones supporting them become readily available and affordable.

The apps come at a time when mobile companies the world over are facing thinning revenue streams from Short Message Service (SMS) after texting services like Facebook Messenger, iMessage, BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber Media, and KakaoTalk slashed the revenue they enjoyed from the segment.

Ovum, a London-based research firm, estimates that mobile companies lost nearly Sh1.1 trillion ($14 billion) last year in text messaging revenue as consumers migrated to applications allowing them to send messages over cell phone data networks.

Here is a review of some of the apps that will complicate fortunes for mobile phone companies in the voice segment and offer an alternative to roaming services, which are relatively expensive.

Pinger introduced its first free global communications network that also connects to public telephone networks at the Mobile Word Congress early this month in Barcelona.

The new service provides users on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS the ability to text and talk in HD for free. The face of the new service is a picture-based interface that combines all communication types (SMS, calls, voicemails) into one conversation.
Pinger is a California-based firm that offers free texting in the US and Germany and has global expansion plans.

According to the firm, its users can communicate with others on the Pinger network in high resolution — higher quality calls, longer text messages, more detailed picture messages.

Pinger’s new picture-based user interface simplifies the mobile experience, centralising all communication in one place and arranging communications by person, as opposed to by multiple applications and tabs.

“Communicating with friends around the world should be easy — on your wallet and on your brain,” said Greg Woock, Pinger co-founder and CEO, in a statement.

“You can SMS and talk — absolutely free anywhere on the planet just by using WiFi or your data plan,” he said. Pinger also supports free SMS and voice calls to standard phones around the globe.

The firm says its users in the US and Germany will be the first to experience free SMS and calling to public networks before bringing it 10 more countries before the end of the year.

Users outside these countries can still enjoy its free interface with anyone who downloads the Pinger app on iOS, Android, Windows, or Macintosh.

This is one of the apps that are expected to give Skype competition. It is a free downloadable app that allows you to talk and text worldwide for free with anyone else who has the app by way of WiFi or data connection.

Users are, however, charged when calling those who do not have the app. It made its intention to take on Skype clear after it launched a new app for the iOS and Android platforms that promises free app-to-app calls and 30 per cent cheaper VoIP than Skype.

The company claims that its calls will cost 70 per cent less than major mobile carriers. The Vonage Mobile app is supported by iPhone and Android smartphones and can also be used on iPad and iPod touch. It is found in the App Store and Android Market.

Talkonaut is also a free mobile calling app which is VoIP-enabled and works as if you are calling online. The free service is also limited to users with the app. It is available on several mobile platforms, including Symbian S60, Windows Mobile 5/6, J2ME with MIDP-2.0, Google Android, as well as iPhone and iPod touch.

The app can be used with any standard account like Gmail. You can also use Talkonaut to make relatively cheaper voice calls to landline or mobile phone numbers through GTalk2VoIP infrastructure.
One of its greatest features is the dial plan, which allows users to choose different Internet providers to dial different phone numbers to get the lowest rate.

Talkonaut also provides a callback option, which makes it possible to use VoIP without fast data connections and powerful hardware.

This application is limited to iPhone, latest generation of iPod touch and iPad, as well as Android phones. It allows users to make free phone calls and send text messages to anyone who also has the application installed, irrespective of their mobile network operator.

Users can call or text any Viber user anywhere in the world for free. However, when you use Viber on a 3G network or WiFi, you might incur operator data charges or Internet access fees.

Once installed, the application integrates with the existing address book and neither requires a PIN nor a username. The app developer says it will soon be made available for BlackBerry phones.

This is perhaps one of the most used software’s in Kenya, if what has been experienced in cyber cafes is anything to go by.

The firm has decided to replicate its service on the mobile phone. Skype, just like the applications above, is free as long as the other person being called or texted is also on the platform.

Skype mobile, which operates on a Windows platform or a higher cellular phone that has WiFi capabilities, allows users to call Skype friends for free and everyone else for the same low rates as you would with your PC-based Skype account. However one will have to pay for the data used.