I'm amazed that this new offering suddenly gains publicity while I'm discussing the potential of GoogleVoice (as a basis for an integrated communications system) and data-only contracts as an alternative to the 'voice-pipe' operators with Dean Bubley on his excellent Disruptive Wireless blog.
A brand-new mobile-phone carrier, Zer01 Mobile said Thursday that it can give you truly unlimited voice and data on smart phones for $69.95/month, without a contract, on a network as broad as the one owned by AT&T.
That's because, in many ways, the network is AT&T's. The company is using a form of roaming agreement to tunnel from AT&T's network into their own IP backbone.
Zer01 gets some of their savings by eliminating traditional circuit-switched voice calling. All calls on Zer01 phones go through a proprietary Voice-over-IP (VOIP) application, which right now runs only on Windows Mobile 6 phones but will work in the future on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Java and even on jailbroken iPhones, Zer01 chief executive Ben Piilani said.
"No calls, period, go out over the GSM network," Piilani said.
The company's $69.95/month plan includes unlimited VOIP calling and data, and is month-to-month with no contracts or credit checks. For $10 more per month, you also get unlimited international calling to 40 countries.
Zer01's VOIP application uses several brand-new, proprietary technologies, Piilani said. It ties into phones' dialer apps to let you dial from the phone's keypad without launching a separate voice-over-IP application. It works with a phone's built-in microphone and earpiece. And Zero01 has some sort of quality-of-service mojo that lets VOIP run even over slow EDGE and GPRS networks.
Let me point out how unusual that is: I've never seen VOIP running over slow GPRS. Even on EDGE, which is faster, the network's latency typically hurts VOIP apps.
"We've developed specific algorithms in our technology that address latency issues across the GSM networks," Piilani said.
The phones run on GSM networks including AT&T's and T-Mobile's. But Zer01 isn't buying time wholesale from AT&T and T-Mobile, Piilani said. Instead, they have purchased their own IP backbone and are using interconnect (AKA roaming) agreements, the way Verizon and Sprint phones work on each other's networks. Each device on the Zer01 network gets a fixed IP address and opens a VPN tunnel to the company's servers, Piilani said.
"It's our own VPN, and we're actually providing the data the customer is using," Piilani said.
By using interconnect agreements, Zer01 can get around the carriers' 5GB/month data caps and offer truly unlimited data, Piilani said. The company's system does some traffic management to make sure that heavy users don't overload a local cellular system.
Zer01 is designed to work with unlocked phones that users bring in on their own, Piilani said, but they also plan to sell three HTC phones, the TyTnII (known on AT&T as the Tilt), the Touch Diamond and the Touch 3G. Zer01's software needs to be optimized for each individual phone model, but the list of acceptable devices is continually growing, Piilani said. Pharos' GPS-enabled Windows Mobile smart phones may be next on Zer01's list.
"Right now the initial push will be Windows Mobile devices, but immediately after launch we're going to announce several other OSes and devices," Piilani said.
Zer01 is a division of Unified Technologies Group, a company run by Piilani that also operates a land-line VOIP service and has had interests in broadband-over-power-line technology.
On the land-line side, Zer01's VOIP service is managed in part by Pervasip's VoXVOIP product, according to an October 2008 press release from Pervasip.
AT&T had no comment on Zer01. The new carrier plans to launch with a closed beta in April, and to set a commercial launch date at the CTIA trade show on April 1.
Sasha Segan on PC Magazine