In the wake of the big tech news story this week (Skype powered video chat on Facebook), one has to ask is VOIP still relevant?Unfortunately, regardless of the bandwidth price wars that are finally showing clear indications of border skirmishes, us as South Africans still pay too much for bandwidth which means that you better ensure you have a comprehensive data plan before you start “œSkyping“ on Facebook whilst tending to your lost sheep on Farmville. Personally, the Facebook video chat option is more likely to ensure that my Facebook chat feature remains ‘offline’.
Returning to the initial question posed, I tested out Viber this week. Viber is a iPhone app that was launched late last year and allows the user to utilise VOIP to make ‘free’ calls to other friends who have the app installed. When I initially heard about this app, I was skeptical. I did not see much need in another app that essentially did what Skype does but, tried it out nonetheless. I was very impressed. Ease of use and excellent call quality were major plus points as were the fact that the app was free, there were no hidden costs and it required no searching for contacts etc. It simply uses your cellphone number, and the contacts in your address book to determine whom amongst your friends have Viber. The interface essentially replicates the iPhone ‘Phone’ user interface. You can also make normal calls whilst in the app with the app seamlessly converting the call into a regular phone call.
There are however some disadvantages. The App essentially works over WiFi and 3G thus both users have to be connected to these networks for good functionality. This disadvantage is not unique to this app but prevalent through any service that utilises VOIP. The other major disadvantage is that the service is presently only available for the iPhone which could makes your Viber contact list quite small. The release of an Android App is imminent and when released I predict that this app is going to become quite popular, very quickly. However success in the South African Market could only be achieved if a Blackberry App is developed as well (see here from reasons why Blackberry is so popular in SA). Interestingly enough if the Viber call forms part of the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS), then that would make the case for Blackberry users to use this service even more convincing.
So, in answering my question (in a rather protracted way), VOIP is STILL relevant. One could still write code smarter to utilise less data without compromising call quality. This could enable VOIP to be used effectively in weaker networks (Edge/ GPRS). Dominance in any market is never a guarantee, else we would all still have MySpace accounts. I urge all iPhone users to try this app and would also like to suggest to the guys at Skype that they may want to consider revisiting their business plan. Download Viber from the App Store If you want to be able download Apps, Music, Movies, TV Series etc from the US iTunes store, even if you live in SA, here is how to do it.