Free Cell Phone Service - The Coming Telecom Revolution
"Too cheap to meter..."
That's what was said about nuclear power in the early days. Lewis Strauss coined this phrase in 1954 when he was Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. (Nuclear power turned out to be far more expensive than he ever imagined.) But can the telecommunications industry today may the same claim about bandwidth usage? How much should a cell phone call cost?
Like most consumers, I do not like to spend any more money on a product or service than I have to. What is the most cost effective way to make a long-distance phone call? The three most common options are using a land line telephone, a cell phone, or the internet. (I am ignoring alternatives like short wave radio!) If you have any of these services you probably pay a monthly bill. Given a choice I would use the internet and a chat service such as Yahoo Instant Messenger. I can call directly to a friends computer, or if my friend has the option set up, have the call ring their cell phone. What does it cost me? Nothing. Well, yes I have to pay for internet, but the call is free. In addition, it is a video call! And I can talk as long as I want. And the quality is as good as a land line or cell phone. This is a very attractive option. Calls on a land line or cell phone are billed by the minute and after you use your allotted monthly minutes you typically start to pay a premium price.
So, what if I want to make that same call without having home internet service and without having to be home at all? Broadband internet has become so ubiquitous that it is now commonly available at no cost in commercial locations in most urban neighborhoods. Think Starbucks. If you buy a coffee, you are allowed free wifi internet access. Starbucks pays the internet bill. (Well, you pay for it indirectly when you buy that pricey tall Americano!) If I bring my laptop I can use the Yahoo method. I only have to purchase a laptop and I have all the free calls I can make. So what if I don't have a laptop or don't want to lug around a heavy computer? Smart phone, you say. Yes. OK, pull the SIM card out of your cell phone and try to make a call. You can't, can you? That SIM card is what makes all the money for the cell phone service provider. But what if you could throw away your SIM card and still make all the long distance calls you wanted to? Well, most smart phones today are really just hand held computers. They have a microprocessor, an operating system, a video screen, and a keypad.
What the phone company doesn't want you to know...
So if a cell phone is just a tiny computer, why can't we make a cell phone with a built-in wifi antenna and a seamless interface to the internet and services like Yahoo IM? It's already been done? Really? Then why are people still paying hundreds of dollars a month in phone bills?
What does a "seamless interface" mean? It means you make a phone call through the internet without changing the way you would normally use the phone. Right now you flip open your phone, dial a number, wait for an answer, and then talk. Then you close the phone when you are finished. With a seamless interface, you would open the phone and it would automatically seek out a wifi signal and establish and internet connection. Next it would automatically open your Yahoo application and enter chat mode. When you dial a phone number, that number is passed to the application which determines which person to contact through Yahoo. Obviously, the software would have to have some extra security features built in, but that should not be difficult. The point is, now you are making a long distance call through your cell phone (without a SIM card) and you can talk as long as you want. And you know what? It is ABSOLUTELY FREE! There is no contract with AT&T. (Cell phone contracts are so twentieth-century .) There are no taxes on your bill because... well, there is no bill. No texting charges, no roaming charges. There is no early cancellation fee. The call is essentially free . Just don't forget to buy a beverage (if you are at Starbucks) so the employees won't think you are a leech.
There are a few companies in business which offer a similar service, such as www.truphone.com. But most still charge a monthly fee. Granted, they offer additional services, but the whole idea is to eliminate all phone bills ! The companies which manufacture the wifi internet phones will have to take the lead, because they are the only ones who will make money. I do believe that soon the traditional telephone service business model is going to see a revolution...