Given the names involved, many observers unsurprisingly expected whatever deal Skype and Verizon Wireless planned to announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to produce a major breakthrough for mobile VoIP. But when the announcement came, it turned out to be less than overwhelming. It involved an application that will allow mobile users to make Skype calls over the Verizon Wireless network using smart phones. The deal does little to alter Verizon's traditional cellular model. It doesn't transport VoIP over the 3G data network, and it won't be a major money-saver for users. The main change it brings is making Skype somewhat more convenient and accessible for Verizon customers.
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More than eight years after signing up its first residential phone customer, Vonage is finally becoming a real VoIP company. Despite being the name most associated in the public mind with VoIP, Vonage actually has spent most of its time pretending to be a conventional phone company. It offered little that AT&T didn't, except a slightly lower price. Recently, however, it has belatedly begun adding other ways to use its service which take advantage of VoIP's unique capabilities. The latest additions are applications for iPhone and BlackBerry phones.
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A mobile phone's built-in address book has limited usefulness. For instance, it only allows users to call people whose numbers they've already entered – which means people they know well. Directory assistance, on the other hand, is about reaching people or establishments one knows almost nothing about. But there's no easy way to deal with the vast territory in between – to reach people one knows only casually, or to learn more about people and companies one knows almost nothing about. San Francisco-based CallSpark, which presented at the recent DEMO conference, is trying to fill that gap.
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One of the more elusive dreams of emerging VoIP services is integration with social networks. The idea is compelling: if tens or hundreds of millions of people make calls to their social network "friends," someone will be able make a lot of money from it. So far, though, no one has had much success in appealing to such users. A startup that presented at the recent DEMO conference is trying to change that. OrganIP, run by France-based Digitrad, is trying to turn social networks into giant phone books.
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