6 Comments

Summary:

Put me in the cynics’ camp with Andy and Om when it comes to VoIP-on-mobile start-ups whose main selling point is a convoluted method to escape high (usually international) roaming fees. The newest entrant into an already crowded field is Nimbuzz, which gets a glowing review […]

Put me in the cynics’ camp with Andy and Om when it comes to VoIP-on-mobile start-ups whose main selling point is a convoluted method to escape high (usually international) roaming fees. The newest entrant into an already crowded field is Nimbuzz, which gets a glowing review over at MobileCrunch but as far as I can tell, offers not much more than local-call prices for all calls placed to another Nimbuzz user.

Putting aside the hoops you need to jump through — like having the same app on both ends, and then the extra button-pushes — the simple question to ask is if Nimbuzz or any of these minute-stealers starts gaining traction, wouldn’t the big carriers figure out a way to drop prices to eliminate the challenge? Andy arrives at this same conclusion, pointing to today’s news of 3′s decision to drop roaming charges.

It all kind of reminds me of the early days of cellular, when AT&T innovated (!) by introducing nationwide dialing plans with no roaming fees. It was such a no-brainer idea that every competitor had to follow. Maybe the new wave of minute-stealing businesses that VCs are pouring cash into are an attempt to strike a Skype-value deal in the mobile voice space, but none of these plans sounds as drop-dead simple to understand and use as Skype itself.

Most of the players in the space seem to understand this argument, and keep talking about how the future will bring more than just cheap calls, but nuanced applications. So far, there’s just a dribble in that realm, like Iotum’s presence features and TalkPlus’s multiple-number schemes. For the others, it’s a race down to zero against carriers whose quarterly revenues run in the tens of billions. Which makes those millions in VC funds look a bit small.

  1. Thanks, but no thanks. As someone who spends 3 months of the year overseas, It’s an issue I’ve grappled with, and the best solution remains this one:

    1) Order a DID, a regular landline number
    2) Get DID pointed to a Voxalot account
    3) Sign up for a VOIP provider (I use Pennytel) that has cheap in-country termination
    4) Grab a local SIM card in the country you’re going to.
    5) Use Voxalot call forward to send all calls to your Mobile, at the low-low rate.

    Going the other way (calling home), I usually use my VOIP provider’s local access numbers in Singapore and Malaysia, or failing that Sipbroker’s usually got me covered (for dialling in to my home Asterisk Box, and out again from there).

    Share
  2. No Buzz for Nimbuzz…

    [Source: GigaOM] quoted: camp with Andy and Om when it comes to VoIP-on-mobile start-ups whose main selling point is a convoluted method to escape high (usually international) roaming fees. The newest entrant into an already crowded field is Nimbuzz, w…

    Share
  3. Are we missing something here? Why did those smart VCs invest tens of millions in the “minute stealer” companies??

    Do they know something we don’t? Isn’t it obvious that the incumbent mobile companies themselves can lower their rates and squash these guys?

    Not only that as I wrote in my blog http://flatplanetphone.com/wordpress/?p=31
    anyone can do it!

    Share
  4. Yes for a part I agree with the latest reply by Moshe Maeir. I also understand the remarks made earlier here. But you guys really miss something here. As far as we envision the near future for mobile communications. Time will tell.

    Let me explain. The whole idea behind Nimbuzz is to bridge the mobile world (expensive for most parts of the world) with the existing and growing world of IM and social communities on the Internet. For Chat, Messaging, and first and foremost Voice. We take presence based communications serious, but now in a ‘cockpit’, a single application if you want, but now connecting multiple communities, as the main interface for tomorrows’ communication for the mobile.

    In no way both parties need to use Nimbuzz. A Nimbuzz user is automatically enabled to connect to MSN / Live Messenger, GTalk and other Nimbuzz users. This quarter we add AOL/AIM, Yahoo and ICQ. Skype is on our roadmap as well.

    I don’t want to create more buzz here, but its not a coincidence that Mangrove Capital Partners, the first investors in Skype, loved the concept from day 1.

    We’re not minute stealing, we’re adding minutes as we bring new ways of communication not existing before from a mobile point of view. Therefore operators already start appreciating the way we coin this innovation. We bring new minutes and finally a reason to subscribe to a mobile dataplan. Consumers, in large parts of the world, are saving money, but suddenly they are equipped with a communications tool that makes it possible to do more and other exciting communications with their existing device. E.g. Have a groupcall from the mobile with a single click: impossible with the existing phones today. And this is just the beginning.

    Yes in time roaming charges will drop. But this is just one piece of the equation. And operators don’t like to do that as a general measure. Give this some thought.

    And finally: Real innovation takes place outside of the mobile operators’ territory. There is not a single application they have succesfully marketed themselves. Or am I wrong here? More and more mobile operators are beginning to understand that they are good in communications and not in applications.

    Even in the US with far lower tariffs than the rest of the world, the easiness to connect to others in this concept is appealing if not viral.

    Martin Smink
    co-founder Nimbuzz

    Share
  5. I agree with Martin Smink on this, and also wanted to say, “Congratulations on a great product – keep improving it!”
    What is the use of arguing who has the better “niche solution”, when all we want is ONE solution! Convenience is pretty high up on my list at least, but one install hasn’t stopped me from using only Nimbuzz to talk and chat for free.
    I have been a heavy Skype user for a gazillion years and was so happy when Nimbuzz came around. Reason being: It combines all these messengers into one application that I can use to chat, text and talk. AND, I can do all that from my mobile phone! All the time, no PC or website required. That all I want. Just something that works and is convenient, on a device i already carry with me all the time.
    I can care less for cute grafics or whether there is a solution where I don’t have to install anything once, or whether there is another firm offering free calls.
    As far as I know only Nimbuzz let’s me do all this, and all this from my cell.
    Furthermore, given the fact that the mobile operators need to sort out their coverage issues before anything else (Cingular is advertising to be the network with the “fewest dropped” calls!!! Since when does GM advertise with fewest cars that didn’t make it!?!) I am pretty happy that companies like Nimbuzz are around, because like Skype, they make sense and don’t need a lot of explaining.
    It just worked for me at least, and has done so for quite a while.
    The thought that providers are going to drop their international roaming charges is nice, but who here is seriously going to rely on that happening anytime soon?? I am still being charged for an SMS!
    Europe is not the US. The only thing they have in common is that the US now has Metro PCS. Calls for a flat rate, but unfortunately nothing else, not even enough coverage.
    Also, I know too many people going out to get an international calling card if their friend is not using Skype at the time they really need to talk to them.
    Really not sure what the fuss is about and where this sudden trust in operators comes from. Half the time I hear people complaining about outragous bills, don’t remember the last time someone said, “Wow, that feature what I’ve wished for all this time!, or, “Wow that was cheap!”.
    On the other hand, yes, charges for international calls have dropped, but that does not mean that the person on the receiving end isn’t paying half the price of the call they are receiving from an international number, depending on the billing policies of all the international operators.
    So until somebody can point me in the “right” direction, or has a cheaper idea than Nuimbuzz, I am quite happy continuing to tell my friends about it and make free calls from my cell, which I carry on me all the time.

    Cheers

    Share
  6. [...] and traditional phones, without the IM features of Fring and Nimbuzz. Back in January of 2007, we covered Nimbuzz and criticized the service for offering cumbersome (although cheap) VoIP-on-mobile minutes. [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post