iPhone to Support Wifi Calling


Kedrosky has an interesting op-ed in the WSJ today, saying that the reason

people desperately want the iPhone is that it isn’t crippled:

These people want to be liberated either from bad phones or from bad phone

companies. They want to choose a device that does all the things they want

to do — calling, being entertained, consuming information — not all the

things their phone company thinks they should do (and then be charged $5 a

month per feature for the privilege). They want phones that make it possible

to do calls over wi-fi, to the point that cellular companies could potentially

become irrelevant.

The massive upwelling of grassroots support for the iPhone shows that a revolution

has been building for some time. Now it’s here. Cell phone carriers are going

to have to respond by cutting the length of contracts and eliminating exclusivity,

and most important, by finally being responsive to their market. If not, iPhones

(or their successors) will finish them off.

Of course, the irony here is that the iPhone is exclusively locked in to AT&T

for the next five years; that it requires a two-year contract; that it won’t

make calls over wi-fi; and that in general it’s not half as revolutionary as

Kedrosky seems to imply that it is. But we’re only at iPhone 1.0, today. Will

wi-fi calls and the like come in the future? Surprisingly, the answer seems

to be yes, according to an interview

with Steve Jobs and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, also in the WSJ:

Mr. Jobs: We obviously thought about VoIP. You still need

a cellular phone because you’re not always going to be in a Wi-Fi hotspot.

One you have a cellular phone plan, it costs you zero incremental dollars

to use it when you’re making the next phone call. VoIP, while an interesting

technology, didn’t seem to be a big breakthrough to us. But others might feel

differently, and others may make Web-based VoIP clients available for the

iPhone – I think someone’s already working on that…

Mr. Stephenson: Absolutely — in fact Wi-Fi is just an enhancement

to your existing wireless capability…. You could not have thought of VoIP

on a wireless handset until you start thinking about Wi-Fi capabilities on

these handsets. That doesn’t intimidate us at all. I think it’s a very nice

enhancement to an existing service.

This is great news. As Jobs knows full well, the incremental cost of the next

phone call is not zero on a cellular phone plan: not if that phone call would

take you over your allotted minutes, and certainly not if the phone

call is international. It seems that Jobs and Stephenson are OK with wi-fi based

calling, which will be a godsend to people who travel or call a lot internationally.

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