There have been a couple of applications released of late that pack some of the features offered by the RF dialer. The folks behind these apps are tripping over one another trying to be known as the first “real Voice over IP” application for the iPhone.
Apparently, to some developers (and even some bloggers who write about such things, Here’s one, and another, and one more) “real VoIP” on an iPhone can only be achieved when the cell phone bypasses the cellular voice network altogether, and transmits and receives voice on the device over WiFi or the cell phone carrier’s data stream.
That this is “real VoIP” is an absurd notion on a few levels.
First, VoIP has been in use for many years, long before the term entered the realm of common technical lexicon, and well before Packet8, VoicePulse and Vonage — the companies that first offered consumer-level non-computer-bound IP communications services — brought VoIP to the masses. It is more than likely, if you made any international calls using one of the international Ma Bells over the past two decades, that you were on VoIP without even knowing it. The world’s communications giants have been using VoIP to cut their international transmission costs since shortly after the the IP network was established. What Packet8, VoicePulse and Vonage accomplished was to actually bring those cost-savings to the consumer, creating a whole new industry in the process.
Second, the use of the term “real VoIP” is fraught with contradiction. Is it “Real VoIP” when a conversation originates from a data-only connection (on an iPhone, for example), travels over the IP network to a telephone switch, then using analog telephone lines to reach its recipient on a plain old telephone? If so, then why isn’t the reverse — a conversation that originates from the cellular network, connects to a local switch where the stream is digitally converted and transmitted over VoIP to a recipient on an IM network like Google Talk — “real VoIP?”
Either “real VoIP” is a conversation that bypasses the traditional or cellular networks altogether (in which case even those calling themselves a “real VoIP” solution are fibbing), or it is a conversation that is carried somewhere along its path using VoIP.
Until the IP network totally replaces the traditional and cellular network as the method by which telephone calls are transmitted, we believe the latter to be the case (OK, not so coincidentally, making RF.com the first “real VoIP” solution for the iPhone).
But, ultimately, this debate over semantics is a non-starter. In the real world, what matters is what is of use to the most people in most circumstances. In bringing VoIP to the iPhone, we chose to maximize the benefits by following different paths (GSM versus WiFi, Web-based versus native hacks, etc.) than other developers tackling the mobile IP challenge.
We’ll delve into these paths — and the whys and why-nots of each — in this space in the coming days.