Tubaloo: Android VoIP via 3G

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| Published: September 16, 2009

Amidst the storm of debates surrounding the FCC's investigation of Apple's refusal to allow Google Voice into the Apple App Store and the befuddlement over the tech giant's acceptance of the Vonage client, a small Chilean company called Tubaloo with a product of the same name is beginning to fan the flames of the growing battle over VoIP. Specifically, they are facilitating the use of 3G data networks for the purpose of IP phone calls - a task that usually requires multiple apps and hacking.

Outside of the benefit of 3G VoIP, there is another aspect in which Tubaloo differs from GV, Skype, Gizmo, and the like: it was designed from an international perspective, and specifically addresses the concerns of consumers in other countries. That is not to say that it won't find footing here in the States, but that it has a strong and clear advantage over comparable apps in, for example, Latin America. And the dilemmas faced by the mobile or would-be-mobile in Latin America are the same as those faced in much of the world today.

When we engage in a phone call in the U.S, we expect it to cost us plan minutes whether we call out or are on the receiving end. That is, of course, unless we are exploiting free carrier-to-carrier features, or are communicating during an "anytime" minute period. Each carrier has their own version of these exceptions, but the point I'm trying to make here is that Inbound and outbound calls are virtually the same to us. We are subject to a Mobile Party Pays, or MPP model.

In most other countries, a different model rules the mobile environment; Calling Party Pays. under this system, incoming calls are free while outgoing calls can be very expensive. If you've ever made an international call, you know that it costs far more to call a mobile  than to call a land line. CPP is the reason. Countries using CPP also have no such thing as "local calls" as we know them - all calls are metered.

Another aspect of foreign markets to consider is the distribution of pre-paid vs. post-paid plans. The bar to post-paid plans can be difficult to reach for a majority of people in some countries. This results in the wealthiest paying one sixth of the cost per minute that the less fortunate pay. Add to that condition a ridiculously low number of bundled of minutes per month, and there are significant obstacles to keeping much of the population connected.

Tubaloo is attempting to address these issues on multiple fronts, and at the same time, exploit the dirt-cheap data available in some of these markets. First, by enabling calls over 3G or Wi-Fi (EDGE calls are not feasible due to quality standards). This will allow customers in certain areas to carry phones with data-only plans.

Tubaloo also employs a GSM call back feature that will enable those with voice plans to initiate a call over EDGE; with Tubaloo calling them back - along with their destination party - so that neither pays exorbitant connection fees. The caller just covers data and Tubaloo rates, which combined, are significantly less than a standard mobile call under CPP.

This represents a significant change for people who are used to signaling each other with rings only to hang up or who limit themselves to SMS communications. Tubaloo should also be implementing virtual numbers in 60 to 90 days, which would result in true local number portability. Numbers registered as land lines would not incur mobile connection fees. See where this is going?

The company also has some social features in mind that will make the app more appealing to American and Canadian consumers that have many VoIP apps to choose from. The ability to post voice notes to Twitter and Facebook via Tubaloo seems pretty neat, from what I've seen. These features should be added shortly via Market updates.

Hopefully, I've given enough context here to pique your interest in the future of apps such as Tubaloo, especially considering the 4G makeover cellular providers in the States have planned. Now let's take a look at the app itself.