Review of Viber: In a world of Video Chat is VOIP still relevant?

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.

Viber user interface very closely modelled on iPhone 'Phone' feature

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.

  1. Hi Fayaz,
    Good write-up, thanks for that. Sort of confirms my suspicion which is simply that VoIP is a Commodity business, and the only way that users are going to truly realise the benefits of VoIP will be through Unified Communications.
    Amongst many things I would classify under VoIP 2.0, one of the key drivers will be integration with commonly used Social Networking Applications (FB as an example), Business Applications (MSFT Outlook as an example) and then how this all ties in to drive Mobility as a UC Application through VoIP technology.
    Finally, as with all things that become more and more adopted, contributors tend to make the standards easier to work with, optimised for connectivity which is inefficient, extend compatibility, and so on.
    Interesting times ahead, I for one am glad to be operating in an ever so exciting market.
    Mitchell Barker

  2. It was a good read Fayaz. I’ve used Viber for occasional calls and quite liked the experience if you’re in a good WiFi/3G connection.
    VoIP is going to be increasing popular when 4G starts to ramp. China and India are looking to implement LTE-TD as their 4G technology of choice. Similarly, other emerging countries (like South Africa) will follow suit. The advantage of 4G will be higher data throughput.
    Voice will be carried over IP (packet switched, not circuit switched like in 2G/3G) in LTE. The backhaul (link from the base station to the core network) and the core network will need to be inherently low latency to make VoIP work seamlessly. Backhaul networks will need to be upgraded from wireless TDM (low throughput) and copper (T1) to substantially higher data throughput systems like wireless Ethernet/IP or fiber-optic. The core network generally is fibre-optic so that will not be the bottleneck in the system.
    Luckily, if voice over LTE goes pear shaped due to capacity issues somewhere in the system, there is an option to fall back to GSM for voice, e.g. Simultaneous GSM (voice) and LTE data.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Yusuf. I must admit to being out of the loop regarding the LTE implementation but after researching it a bit now, I have to admit that I am extremely excited. Like Tesla did with the distribution of electricity, I believe these are the technologies that are going to ultimately enable the big switch to the cloud.

  3. I like the idea of Viber, and I like how they mimic the existing iPhone dialler interface. But Viber has one big problem – Apple. Apple does not allow tight integration with all aspects of the phone, and the sandboxed environment requires the user to have to manually switch to Viber App before making a Viber call, which is a shame.
    Bad Apple.

  4. Hi all,
    This is an official representative of Viber Media.
    First, I’d like to thank Mohamed for this great review. We are excited to see the great interest so many users across the world take in our application.
    I’d like to refer to some points raised in the article and the user’s comments:
    First, as mentioned, Viber is coming to Android very soon, and that will expand the range of supported devices immensely. It will allow most users to suddenly be able to call dozens more friends, who will suddenly appear in their contact lists as Viber users.
    In the meanwhile, it is important to note that Viber can also be used on iPods and iPads, making them virtually a WiFi phone!
    About Viber for Blackberry – it is actually being planned these days.  We started focusing on this project a few weeks ago, but as you know – Blackberry itself is very technologically complex, and integrating VoIP into it is a serious challenge.  It’s still early to talk about release dates or even estimates, but you can always find updates on our Facebook page.
    At any rate – I’ll be monitoring this article for our South African users’ questions (or anyone else, really), so feel free to ask whatever you’d like.
    Mohamed – you can also contact me personally if you’d like more information regarding Viber for future articles.

  5. How says Voip is not relevant in a world of video chat. I used skype viatalk axvoice and many others for video chatting. Even i used some services for video chat alone for my business as well as home. Don’t know about you but it costs much less, way less in fact.

  6. If I call someone and the other persons coming busy. is there a possibilty. Of talking to someone..what could be the other reasons for the phone to b
    e busy

    1. Viber shows the “Busy” message either if the other person is on another Viber call, or that person is on a regular, cellular call.

  7. I live in New Zealand and cannot at this stage make calls on Viber to my friends in South Africa which is the main reason I downloaded the app on my android so I am waiting an hoping that the folks at Viber fix this soon, in the meantime I am keeping viber to see what happens.
    Also would the folks at Viber consider some different ringtones or enabling the app to apply ringtones from the likes of Zedge

    1. What error exactly are you getting trying to call him via Viber? Please elaborate.
      About the ringtones – we plan to add this option in the future. We apologize for the temporary inconvenience :/

  8. When I try to call Sth Africa I get a window popping up saying
    “Currently this user cannot be called through Viber. To send a free Viber message instead press continue”
    Could this be that my friend is probably using a Blackberry?
    I apprerciateed your response. Thanks

    1. Hi,
      Viber’s calling service is unfortunately not yet available for some platforms, including Blackberry. In the future we plan to introduce our calling feature to Blackberry devices, and only then will you be able to use Viber to call that friend.

  9. Hi! is there any explanation why my viber is busy sometimes when my love calls me eventhough im not talking to anyone, not in viber or gsm. He accused me of cheating on him, that im talking to someone at the times that he was calling to my viber and its busy. I wasnt even talking to anyone and my phone was in my bag. how is it possible? pls help me…thank you!

    1. Hi,
      Because this occurs with Viber and GSM calls, it does not seem to be an issue with the Viber application. Please contact your phone service provider for further assistance with this issue.

      1. But it never happened to anyone that their viber is busy eventhough they werent talking to anyone in either viber or gsm? No complain, report or issue at all? i didnt have any misscalls at that time from someone elses either, not in viber or gsm. MY operator couldnt help me because they cant se my vibers in or outgoing calls.

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