By Ben Charny
Jayson Jepson pays 29 cents a minute to call London on his cell
phone. Wouldn't it be great, the founder of Mint Telecom asks
rhetorically, if it were more like 2 cents a minute?
Now it is, courtesy of Mint and a growing corporate coterie selling
cell phone versions of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software,
which is used to transform Internet connections into inexpensive home
or office phone lines.
Mint began offering a $7-a-month cell phone service two weeks ago.
Skype, Vonage, IP Drum and other operators using VoIP software have
caused tectonic shifts in the traditional phone-service industry. Now
these same interests are dialing into cell phones, primarily because a
growing number have high-speed Internet connections rivaling the
performance of broadband operators, whether it's over a
third-generation cell phone network or based on Wi-Fi wireless
A speedy connection is very important to VoIP, in which calls travel
on the Internet just like e-mails and instant messages. Because VoIP
is intended for voice communication, it is relatively unforgiving of
Internet connections afflicted by sluggishness or clipped or dropped
Consumers, of course, must weigh the cost of VoIP cell phone access
against the savings they might derive from standard VoIP. Cell phone
subscribers, after all, already pay a monthly fee for cell phone
service. So why would they pay a company like Mint $7 a month extra,
plus a per-minute fee, to make a call on the same phone?
Jepson argues that the savings for customers using VoIP services are
significant enough to make it worthwhile to buy cell phone access over
VoIP. "You could ask the same question for VoIP in general," he wrote
in an e-mail to CNET News.com. "It's $24.95 for an unlimited calling
plus $20 to $40 a month for broadband just to save a few cents?"
Most cell phone VoIP software comes from start-ups such as IP Drum,
which is based in Norway. It's a product that enables cell phones to
use Skype, arguably the world's most popular Internet telephony
But VoIP giants Skype and Edison, N.J.-based Vonage say they also have
ambitions to develop software for cell phone access.
"It's an area we're committed to," said Skype spokeswoman Kelly
On Monday, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based CallWave will reveal a new
wrinkle in its lineup of VoIP-related cell phone services, including a
unique call screening feature.
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