We had this spectacular guide of how to make Virgin Mobile enable free VoIP calling using SIP and Google Voice. And, we were all set to deliver it with amazing photos… until it stopped working. Read more for the story of what happened, and how nerds are the only ones that can make it work for now.
We made no aspersions that the how-to guide was anything new. Essentially, the workflow was a screen shot guide of deploying Sipdroid on a Virgin Mobile Intercept. Virgin Mobile has extended their groundbreaking $25/month unlimited-data-messaging-and-300-voice-minute plan to Android with the Samsung Intercept.
The specific workflow involved pointing Sipdroid to a free incoming Sipgate account, and then using the Google Voice for Mobile web page to dial out using the web browser. The outgoing calls would then be routed as inbound calls regardless of how they are initiated. That makes them free on Google Voice, free on SIPgate, and thus, free to you when they arrive on your Samsung Intercept via Sipdroid.
And, when we were writing this article, it worked very well. Calls worked and produced minimal lag. There was noticeable lag increases over a standard CDMA 1X voice call, but they were tolerable.
Then we teased the article and wrote it up. About 48 hours later, things got bad. Really bad.
Call quality fell through the floor over 3G, and Wi-Fi wasn’t dramatically better. On top of that, Sipdroid broke when it rolled out an update to offer video calling. We had to move on, and put this one on the backburner. Not to tease this out any longer, we suspect Google is using several call centers nationally, and that makes it difficult for SIPgate to be close enough to handle VoIP calls with reliable latency.
Enter Gizmo5, our Plan B. Google acquired Gizmo5, and is not sending out new invites at this time. We’ll get to why in a second. You can however, purchase a Gizmo5 invite/account on eBay for a few bucks, and set that up. When we did, the same workflow we mentioned above works just fine… which we knew it would. Google co-located Google Voice and Gizmo5 close enough to have a complete, free calling solution.
And that is a problem for Google. See, Google has told the FCC lately that Google Voice should not be regulated, because it is not a complete calling solution. You need something else to make it work. Typically, you need a cell phone or some other phone service. And, Gmail calling doesn’t really work when you walk away from your web browser, so Google gets away with that assertion. But, Gizmo5 breaks that assertion. A free Google Gizmo5 account, combined with Google Voice, really does make Google a telecommunications provider.
And that’s why you can’t sign up for a Gizmo5 account from Google, right now. We suspect Google is waiting for the FCC to end their Google Voice investigation, before taking any further action on Gizmo5. We also suspect Google wants to re-launch Gizmo5, even if it means making it a subsidiary that is disconnected legally from Google proper. The pairing works just too well.
We could give you the step-by-step guide, but we know what will happen. People will flock to eBay, buy up all the Gizmo5 invites, and people will then be demanding dozens of dollars for what should be a free service. A free service that still is in beta, and still has issues.
In short, we have to move on. We aren’t going to drag people out longer waiting for solutions that you may be in for a long wait. If prepaid plans can disappear without any notice, leaving people paying hundreds for a phone in a lurch… VoIP can turn on an even faster dime.
That all said, the simple offering of a $25/month handset unlimited data plan from Virgin Mobile, sans any need for purchasing a voice plan on top of it, paves the way for these solutions. These are the pioneer plans that will ensure that the future of wireless is totally data-centric, and not tied to a completely unnecessary voice plan.
The same pioneers that understand this workflow, can combine Gizmo5, Google Voice, and Sipdroid to achieve free calling today. However, keep in mind, pioneers take the arrows as well. This is cutting-edge setups with known issues and audible lags. However, as (true, non-fake) 4G arrives nationally, VoIP will replace voice plans faster than most analysts will be able to justify their paychecks.
Stay tuned shortly for our review of both Sprint’s and Virgin Mobile’s Samsung Intercepts, side-by-side.