Mobile calling with VoIP, Viber and an iPad

Sarah Putt investigates data speeds and pricing, looks at mobile VoIP and turns an iPad into a phone

Mobile data is on the ascendancy with demand being driven by consumer devices such as the iPad, which one Wall Street analyst predicts will reach sales of 28 million by the end of this year. Meanwhile, Apple’s competitors are set to roll out their own tablets, with many unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

According to IDC local mobile internet connections via handsets will grow to 1.6 million in 2011 and data connections as a percentage of total mobile connections will increase to 32 percent this year. But as mobile users look forward to a plethora of new devices, what kind of networks will they be running on in this country?

Data speeds

Computerworld measured mobile data speeds on each of the three networks using MicoSIMs in an iPad. The methodology was based on a similar test carried out by PC World in Australia, which measured the performance of four mobile networks across the Tasman using a microSIM in an iPad in June last year. As the table and speedtest data (below) shows, 2degrees was the fastest network and Telecom XT was the worst performer, and it wasn’t only at Auckland CBD location. We also tested the networks in Browns Bay and found similar results.

Note: 2degrees only has its own mobile broadband network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, outside of these cities 2degrees customers roam on Vodafone’s 3G network.

Data price comparison

So what do you pay in New Zealand for mobile data compared to across the Tasman? In these price comparisons it was for data on a MicroSIM. As the table (below) shows, the Australian telco 3mobile beats the local networks on price, with 1GB of data for NZ$19.60. Note: the data allowance expires after 30 days unless otherwise stated.

VoIP calling

An iPad is not a phone but what if you want to make a call, can you get it to work over a broadband data connection – whether via a wi-fi, or 3G network? The short answer is ‘Yes’, but you need a VoIP number. Here is how to get one.

VoIP is available from a number of providers locally, however Computerworld went to Conversant and bought a number for $10.

Conversant pitches its business at the small to medium-sized business market. The company is not a member of the Numbering Administration Deed, but instead buys its numbers off CallPlus. In addition to the Apple devices, the VoIP number will work with Nokia Symbian 60 and Android operating systems.

All that was required to set up Computerworld as a VoIP customer was to send through the MAC address on the iPad and iPhone devices we wanted to activate the VoiP number on. Once in place we then downloaded the app Bria – an open standards, SIP-based softphone for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch that costs $10.99.

It looks a bit strange to be calling on an iPad (see photo on page 14) but the device works quite well as a speaker phone.

The ongoing costs are $10 a month for the VoIP service and the data you use over the mobile network. There is no charge if its a free wi-fi connection (in a cafe or hotel for example). Conversant CEO Cameron Beattie says the amount of data usage depends on the codec being used. “This can range from about 25 hours per GB for G711 (the same as the traditional phone network) through to well over 100 hours for some of the lower-bandwidth codecs such as GSM or G729”.

To call a New Zealand mobile Conversant charges 27c a minute (on top of the above charges). Another VoIP provider 2talk charges 21c plus GST for New Zealand mobile calling. 2talk general manager Jude Flood says it has its own iPhone app and is planning to develop an Android app for VoIP calling in the next six months. The target market for both providers is SMEs — Flood says 2talk’s core customers are companies with around three to 10 phone lines and that one number can be configured for use on up to five devices, including landlines and mobiles.

IPhone VoIP apps

You don’t have to go to the trouble of getting a VoIP number and registering with a provider, especially if you are an iPhone user, to access cheap calling.

In addition to Skype, a new app was released in December that has set the tech community in the US abuzz. It’s called Viber. It is a free app that when downloaded enables users anywhere in the world to call other iPhone users for just the cost of the data used.

The catch is that it is only for iPhone users (it doesn’t connect to landlines) and the person called has to be on Viber as well. As soon as you download the app it goes through your contacts list and identifies other Viber users. The call quality is good, but you have to get used to a different ringtone. And it will require critical mass before Viber becomes a serious threat to carriers.

The iPhonewzealand website reviewed the app shortly before Christmas and estimated that, “In terms of data usage, you’re looking at around 512KB per minute, meaning calls are costing you somewhere in the region of just 3c per minute.”

Viber has no discernible business case, a fact that its owner has been open about in online forums such as TechCrunch. Although it appears to follow the “freemium” model – that is create something free, get a whole bunch of customers, and then sell them an upgrade. Just what the ‘up sell’ could be, Viber has yet to reveal.

Security

How secure is mobile VoIP? Computerworld asked Conversant’s Beattie and international security solutions firm Watchguard for their views.

Beattie says: “Both traditional and VoIP phone systems are vulnerable to attack. The usual rules about password security and OS on apply. We take the following steps to reduce the incidence of fraud: require strong passwords, block IP addresses that get passwords wrong after a set number of attempts, and provide a PIN system to a large number of international calling destinations that are known to be the target of fraud.”

Watchguard Asia Pacific vice president for channels and alliances Scott Robertson says: “Personally, we like VoIP clients, and WatchGuard has nothing against them. In our opinion, there is nothing wrong with using a VoIP client, instead of your mobile network, as it can be less expensive and more convenient.

“So we certainly aren’t opposed to VoIP technology – on mobiles or otherwise. However, we do want more people to recognise that VoIP represents a potential attack vector, that hasn’t been fully explored yet.

“While VoIP has been out for quite a while, it is still new enough that all its potential security ramifications haven’t been realised. This doesn’t mean it is not secure and we shouldn’t use it, it just means that it is fertile ground for attack, so we should pay attention to its security, and implement it properly.”

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Tags conversantxtvoipVodafoneNetworking & Telecomms ID2degreesVibertelecomiPad

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