The torch of the technology revolution has passed to smartphones. Back in 2003, as cell phones were gaining mass adoption, a handful of Scandinavian developers created a voice over IP service, called Skype, which enabled the first free calls over the Internet. By the end of 2010, they had over 663 million users.
Many more such providers followed. These second generation providers created closed networks for their users. They offered free calling, texting and other services within their network. They also gave users the opportunity to upgrade for access to those outside of their closed network including access to the phone companys PSTN. This business strategy was quickly dubbed the freemium model.
The Rise of OTT
Smartphone users now have a brand-new category of phone apps called OTT (Over-The-Top). OTT services are accessed on top of the traditional PSTN, in order to circumvent carrier fees (See OTT Apps: The Guide to Everything OTT). People wanting free calling can bypass the network of their wireless carrier and their wireless carriers fees through the use of an OTT calling app.
OTT calling apps provide more than free calling. With OTT, users can also share audio and video, often without incurring data transfer fees from their carriers.
How can they make it free?
How are they able to do this? Simply put, by utilizing peer-to-peer networks to bypass legacy phone companies.
A peer-to-peer (P2P) network is a decentralized network of individual nodes (peers) acting as both client and server. By means of this distributed configuration, users on the same client application, e.g., Voxox, can make calls to one another for free. Calls made outside of the peer-to-peer network cost as little as a few cents.1
Its a revolutionary concept. With P2P networks, tasks like searching for files or streaming online video are shared by multiple interconnected peers, which allocate a portion of their resources (like storage or bandwidth) for other peers, without the necessity of a centralized server.1
How do OTT apps match up?
Following is a comparison of the top OTT/VoIP apps. Many share similar features while certain apps stand out as offering a full range of advanced features, such as real-time text translation from Voxox.
Google Voice is more of a "phone number management" service than a typical Internet phone service. If all you want to do is to make free phone calls, Google Voice is a player.3 However, sharing is limited to images and in terms of the Beyond RCS category, Google Voice only gives you fax to email.
Skype powers free in-network messages and VoIP-based phone/video calls. Skype is a cross-platform service that is available to Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone devices, as well as tablets and desktops.4 Like Google Voice, Skypes sharing functionality is limited and the Beyond RCS functions leave some holes.
Viber users text, call, and send photo and video messages worldwide over Wi-fi or 3G. On Viber, your phone number is your ID. It syncs with your mobile contact list, automatically detecting which of your contacts have Viber.5 In our Cloud Telephony category, Viber falls short, offering no free, virtual or vanity phone numbers, and no callback or call recording functionality.
Voxox is a communications center with support for phone calls, instant messaging, e-mail and fax. It contains a substantial combination of all rich media categories of Pre-RCS, RCS 5.1, Beyond RCS, Cloud Telephony and more. Inbound calls are free on your free Voxox phone number. Unlimited outgoing calls are only $2.45 a month to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, whether youre calling landlines or mobile phones.6
1. Rüdiger Schollmeier, A Definition of Peer-to-Peer Networking, Proceedings of the First International Conference on Peer-to-Peer Computing, IEEE (2002).
2. Booth, C (2010) IP Phones, Software VoIP, and Integrated and Mobile VoIP. Library Technology reports.
3. Stacy Fisher, Free Phone Calls With Google Voice, About.com Guide, July 2013.
4. Eric Zeman, 10 Mobile Chat Apps That Beat SMS, InformationWeek, April 2013.
5. Apple.com, iTunes Preview, September 2013.
6. Michael Muchmore, 8 Skype Alternatives to Get You Through the Outage, PCMag.com, December 2010.