Rebtel just launched version 2.0 of its free iPhone app, which allows users to make and receive free international calls using WiFi, 3G, or local minutes. TechCrunch discusses Rebtels's "new proprietary technology called “KeepTalking”, which allows users to transition (mid-call, mind you) from WiFi/3G to local minutes." VentureBeat also writes about them with this headline: "Rebtel’s Voice-over-IP app hops between data/voice networks, a first". Actually, they're not the first. Back in 2010 at ITEXPO Counterpath's Todd Carothers demo'ed switching a 3G voice call automatically to WiFi and a VoIP call to the cellular network. An example for WiFi he gave is you're driving home using 3G, but as you enter your house, you lose cellular signal, which is common, especially in older homes. But with CounterPath's solution, their software automatically senses the WiFi signal in your house and automatically switches the call over before the call is dropped. It can do the reverse as well.
Further, using the iPhone's multi-tasking capabilities he then switched back to Bria. Bria popped up with a message "Handoff to VoIP? Active iPhone call has been detected. Do you want to handoff the call to Bria?". Amazing, eh? The Bria app detected the iPhone's native 3G phone app was in a call and granted the ability to "steal" the call from the cellular side and bring it over to the VoIP side (whether over 3G data or WiFi). Total call continuity from the SIP-based PBX to the cellular network without dropping the call. Here's the actual demonstration Todd did at ITEXPO showing this in action:
So this feature has been done before so Rebtel was not "first". There are other fixed mobile convergence (FMC) solutions as well. Perhaps what VentureBeat meant was this is a the first consumer-based FMC solution, since CounterPath requires the utilization of their gateway integrated to the enterprise PBX for their solution to work. CounterPath also sells their Network Convergence Gateway (NCG) which would sit at the "core" of ITSPs, such as Vonage or Rebtel to FMC-enable their customers. Perhaps Rebtel uses CounterPath's NGC? I'll have to investigate further.
One feature of note in v2.0 is free calls to other Rebtel application users (Android, Blackberry, PC, etc.), which seems like an obvious feature that should have been in the first release. I've never heard of a VoIP app that doesn't allow you to make free calls as long as the user is on the same network. They also seem to have copied Viber's super-popular "no user names", a feature that I initially underestimated. You simply use your phone's regular address book feature to call people. This could improve Rebtel's uptake and increase their user base. Skype may be king, but smaller players like Rebtel, Viber, and Bababoo are making their case.
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