Ever since Apple announced AT&T was its exclusive iPhone service provider partner, technophiles have been looking at ways to install VoIP capabilities into the smartphone and circumvent the carrier's steep prices.
On Wednesday, startup firm Truphone demonstrated how iPhone customers can install and use its telephony software over Wi-Fi networks to place calls. Chief executive officer James Tagg made a VoIP call in front of an audience at the Demofall 07 show in San Diego. The iPhone is new ground for Truphone. The seven-year-old company has previously only offered its VoIP software for some Nokia Internet-enabled handsets, including the Nokia E61i and the E90.
During the demonstration, Tagg described how the VoIP call was initiated from one handset, routed via Wi-Fi and the Internet to Truphone's servers, and then back again to the access point and onward to the destination handset. The software is capable of handling Session Initiation Protocols including SIP to SIP, SIP to phone, and phone to SIP. The company's YouTube channel shows a similar demonstration that Tagg did on the show floor. The setup took a few minutes, but the call was successful.
VoIP software has been available for the iPhone since its June 29 debut, courtesy of companies such as Skype. One drawback is that consumers pay for the calls -- even the Skype-to-Skype connections, which are normally free.
Truphone's software also is free to download and calls to landlines in every other country are priced pretty average for VoIP services. A call to Bangladesh, for example, will run a customer 12.8 cents per minute, while a chat with friends in Japan runs 3.1 cents per minute. Mobile to mobile calls are a bit pricier, with 29.8 cents per minute for calls in the U.K., although Malaysia mobile calls cost only 9.3 cents.
Truphone said one advantage of its software is that unlike some software companies that are trying to hack into Apple's iPhone operating system or firmware, Truphone doesn't need to unlock the SIM in order to operate its service for the iPhone.
As a peek at what's to come, Tagg also showed how his VoIP software could be used with other Web 2.0 aspects such as social networks. The executive demonstrated a Facebook-to-iPhone call using SIP.
The mashup, which is still in development, will allow Facebook users to drop a Truphone 'Call Me' button onto their friends' sites and also embed it into Facebook messages. The setup also allows Facebook users to keep their actual number confidential.
"People today use multiple tools to communicate in different ways at different times, but this multiplication of options can serve to confuse consumers," Tagg said in a statement. "By providing the Facebook community with free calls to real phones, Truphone will genuinely help bridge the worlds of traditional and internet telephony."
The company said it is closely involved with the open source community and is developing the Truphone service to interact with open standards.