That’s Yet Another Mobile VoIP Kludge (TM). Rebtel is the latest one to pop up, promising cut-rate international calls. Like others before it, it’s not particularly straightforward.
It’s made up of two services. The first, REBout, has users establish individual local numbers for overseas friends. For instance, if I wanted to call Russell in Germany, I’d enter his info on the Rebtel site, and it would then give me a US number for him. When I want to call him, I just dial that, and the system calls him, and I’m charged typical VoIP rates (for instance 2 cents for a landline or 23 cents per minute for mobile for Germany). The other service, REBin, is charged at $1 per week. It generates two sets of local numbers — one for you, and one for your contact. You call the local number for your friend, who then gets connected, and you tell them to call you back on their local number for you. After they do so, you both can chat for as long as you like, at local rates.
As I said, not particularly straightforward. It also seems a little problematic to ask people in countries where it’s free to receive calls to shoulder some of the financial burden for cutting your long-distance bills, as you would with REBin. In any case, Rebtel provides a good illustration of the current “mobile VoIP” environment: there are plenty of solutions out there — if you want to cut what you’re paying for international calls and are willing to put up with a bit of a hassle, though admittedly there are other appear to be easier to use than this one. That’s hardly the mobile VoIP revolution that some would have you believe (and don’t get started on Wi-FI just yet).
It also illustrates a few other things: the real impact of mobile VoIP as a disruptive technology will likely be on pricing of mobile calls, rather than the success of any VoIP service running over a cellular data connection (at least until we’re in an all-IP environment where everything’s treated as data and goes over the same connection). For instance, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Hutchison’s Skype deal works not as a pure data service, but rather more as a connection between Hutchison’s voice network and Skype’s VoIP one, like Rebtel or JaJah or any of the other services. For now, this is an area that exists because mobile operators allow it to — they can simply cut costs, or more realistically, use VoIP in similar ways as some of these upstarts.
Cellular networks remain a pretty damn good way to allow for mobile voice coverage — at least in terms of getting calls between the network and users. VoIP’s real impact on mobile won’t really come in that connection, but rather in the middle of the network. It’s better suited there, anyway, where it’s largely invisible to the user — rather than forcing them to use kludgy VoIP workarounds.
[tags]mobile, voip, mobile voip, rebtel, skype, hutchison, jajah[/tags]