VoIP Over Wi-Fi: When Will We See Hybrid Phones?
As mentioned in last week’s post Here Comes the Gphone, one of the worries (among many) causing U.S. wireless carriers to exert so much control over the devices that run on their networks is the development of Wi-Fi-enabled phones.
This would be a first step toward enabling consumers to bypass cellular minutes in favor of cheaper (and sometimes higher quality) VoIP calls, when in range of a Wi-Fi network. Some of the consumer benefits of such a scenario are broken down in a post yesterday on Tech Republic’s 10 Things blog.
Carriers will continue to fight this, but it is inevitable that hybrid phones (those that can switch back and forth between cellular and Wi-Fi reception) will reach the market. Indeed, the iPhone already does this by switching between Wi-Fi and AT&T’s Edge network for data access. The next step would be to access VoIP calling capability, which currently isn’t enabled on the iPhone, but give it time for software to be developed to do this.
The iPhone’s attractiveness and game changing potential caused AT&T to allow this hybrid functionality, and it will take something as revolutionary to push this forward for other carriers – that or someone jumping first, which will cause others to adopt in order to compete. The Gphone, possibly free of carrier control as mentioned last week, could likewise push this forward.
Any or all of these situations could happen in the next 24 months, as well as others that I’m not thinking of. Carriers will continue to resist, but it will happen. As their control loosens, mobile search application development will also improve, as we keep saying. The iPhone and (prospective) Gphone will be catalysts, and soon the market will flood with copycat devices that will compete on price.
Before long there will be entirely new standards in mobile device hardware that will enable mobile local search applications and directional advertising opportunities that have mainstream appeal and accessibility. This will finally get adoption by consumers (as prices come down), and advertisers (think mobile ad integration to AdWords on a prospective Gphone), off the ground.
Related: Motorola and Nokia have also announced GPS-enabled devices that include mapping and local search capability but are sold directly to consumers without carrier calling plans, as explored in a past post.