On April 1, a new national mobile phone carrierZer01 Mobiletrumpeted its impending service debut at CTIA Wireless 2009 in Las Vegas.
So? (Yawn . . .) Another mobile provider?
Well, yes, but Zer01 is not like other mobile carriersin at least two significant ways.
First, the offering is far cheaper than comparable plans from the 'mobile establishment'$69.95 per month for unlimited voice and data service, inclusive of all taxes and fees. Moreover, terms are month-to-month. Zer01 does not require (or even offer) a contract or other commitment.
Second, its traffic does not move over a cellular networkexcept for the 'last mile.' Zer01 has thrashed out interconnect agreements with cellular carriers throughout North America that will provide that last mile connectivity. But the rest of the transport is VoIP.
"We have licensed patent pending proprietary Veritable Mobile Convergence (VMC) technology from [parent company] Unified Technologies Group that allows each smartphone user to make voice calls or transmit data efficiently, bypassing carrier circuit-switched channels and sending voice communications through a VoIP system and onto a virtual private network that accesses the Internet," explained Zer01 Mobile CEO Ben Piilani.
"It's really hard to do voice over Internet," Piilani told Enterprise VoIPplanet. "It really needs a high quality service; the network has to be really stable. The Vonages and the VoXs have it got down on the landline. Now we are taking it off the landline and putting in on the wireless side."
That doesn't mean Piilani intends to make technology the focus of his marketing story. "I don't want to have to do customer awareness about how we are able to do VoIP over mobile. I just want them to see this cheap, reliable, flat-rate, prepaid service plan that provides truly unlimited voice calling and data access," he said.
The Zer01 service, which is scheduled to go live on July 1, 2009, will initially support Windows Mobile-based smartphones. The company is working on support for other devices and platforms, such as the BlackBerry, Android, and the Apple iPhone, which it expects to be available within months.
Zer01 will be selling phones as wellthe Pharos Traveler 117 and 127 and three HTC models: the TyTN II, the Touch 3G, and the Diamondfrom its online store. (Pricing is not yet available.)
Note that the Zer01 Mobile network is open. Anyone can play, but one corollary of the pricing and the absence of a contract commitment is that phone hardware is not subsidized. What effect will this have on the marketplace? It will be interesting to see.
For that matter, what effect will the service itself have on the marketplace?
"It's going to really change the landscape in the mobile industry," Ben Piilani told VoIPplanet.com.
Piilani hopesand expectsto shake the "monopoly" he sees embodied in Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon.
"We are an entirely new type of carrier, and we are going to introduce more competition into the marketplaceto force these guys to compete more on the consumer level," Piilani said. "Ultimately I see the telecom industry all going to the data side because of this."
Adam Stone also contributed to this article