Dual-mode cell phones contain both a regular cellular radio and a Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) radio. The Wi-Fi radio enables the cell phone to connect to a wireless Internet network through a wireless router. If you have a wireless Internet router in your home, or if you're sitting at a Starbucks with wireless Internet access, you can use your cell phone to make VoIP calls. Here's how it works:
- When the cell phone is in range of a wireless Internet network, the phone automatically recognizes and connects to the network.
- Any calls you initiate on the wireless network are routed through the Internet as VoIP calls. With HotSpot@Home, all VoIP calls are free.
- If the phone is out of range of a wireless Internet signal, it automatically switches over to the regular cellular network and calls are charged as normal.
- Dual-mode phones can hand off seamlessly from Wi-Fi to cellular (and vice versa) in the middle of a call as you enter and exit Wi-Fi networks.
Similar to dual-mode cell phones are Wi-Fi phones. Wi-Fi phones aren't technically cell phones because they only have a Wi-Fi radio, not a cellular radio. Wi-Fi phones look like cell phones (small, lightweight handsets), but can only make calls when connected to a wireless Internet network. That means all Wi-Fi phone calls are VoIP calls.
Wi-Fi phones are useful in large companies and offices with their own extensive wireless networks. And could prove to be the next big thing, with the expanding market for municipal Wi-Fi. [source: Dr. Dobb's Portal]. Imagine that your entire city was covered by a high-speed wireless network. That means cheap (if not free) VoIP calls wherever you go.
In England, a company called Hutchinson 3G (or simply 3) has partnered with the popular VoIP service Skype to introduce the 3 Skypephone. The Skypephone allows users to make free cell phone calls to other Skype users. The phone can also make regular cell-phone calls to non-Skype users for the normal fees. Here's how it works:
- To make a Skype call using the 3 Skypephone, you have to be on 3's cellular network.
- To initiate a Skype call, find a Skype user in your phone's address book and press the big "Skype" button.
- The call first goes over 3's cellular GSM network to a fixed Internet line, which then connects the call to Skype [source: mobileSift].
- From your 3 Skypephone, you can make free VoIP calls to other Skype users whether they have a Skypephone or not. You can talk to Skype users on their PCs or using other Skype VoIP products.
The 3 Skypephone isn't currently available in the United States.
On the next page, we'll talk about how amateur radio operators are using VoIP technology.