Galaxy Nexus + data plan + VoIP support = free calls!

72 Comments

When I bought my unlocked Galaxy Nexus, I figured that I’d simply use the SIM card in my iPhone 4S with the handset. Instead, I pulled the T-Mobile SIM out of my Samsung Galaxy Tab. I’m glad I did because I discovered a very appealing scenario. By using the data-only SIM — which costs me $40.00 per month for unlimited texts and data — with a new Android 4.0(s goog) feature, I’ve turned the Galaxy Nexus into a VoIP phone: I can get or receive calls solely through Wi-Fi and mobile broadband networks without subscribing to a voice plan.

Native SIP support in Android 4.0

Google’s newest mobile operating system version, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, natively supports SIP accounts in the Phone dialer app. This addition of SIP support opens up a whole new world of voice possibilities. SIP, which stands for Session Initiated Protocol, unifies both voice and video over standard IP-based networks. As voice becomes data — especially in the future as LTE networks are IP-based — this means we’ll have more flexibility and features over traditional voice calls and even phone numbers.

Let me step back for one second to clarify something: SIP support on smartphones isn’t new, nor did Google “invent” anything here. I recall that some Nokia(s nok) devices a few years back included native SIP support in both the Symbian and Maemo platforms. In addition, there are a number of third-party SIP-based VoIP apps available for both iOS and Android. Google has simply integrated SIP support into the platform.

Wi-Fi and 3G are generally fine for voice

Having said that, I’m glad they did. As I was using the Nexus all weekend long (see my first video impressions here), I was still carrying my iPhone 4S, which has my primary phone number. Finding the SIP support and configuration options within the Android 4.0 Phone settings got me thinking more about VoIP. It also didn’t hurt that in my local area, I’m seeing nearly 10 Mbps download speeds on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Standard voice calls use far less bandwidth — around 12 Kbps — while even new wideband audio codecs used for higher quality sound top out around 64 Kbps. So, VoIP over Wi-Fi and 3G ought to be just fine for the most part and shouldn’t do too much damage to a capped data plan.

The SIP setup

There are a number of VoIP companies that support SIP, so I did some research over the weekend and settled on Callcentric for now. There was no charge to get a SIP account, which enabled VoIP to VoIP calls on my Galaxy Nexus after I configured the Phone app. Taking things one step further, I signed up with Callcentric to provide me a local phone number for $2.95 per month. With that, I can receive incoming phone calls at no charge: These can originate from any phone — mobile or landline — just like a traditional call. But while the phone may start on a cell network or old copper line, it gets routed as data to my handset.

That’s all well and good, but to be honest, I don’t want to give my contacts yet another number. Enter Google Voice, which uses the customized phone number I hand out to everyone. I added my Callcentric phone number to Google Voice and now all incoming calls to my main number ring my Galaxy Nexus at no charge. They also ring all of my other phones, making for a jarring experience when I actually get a call!

So now I have free incoming calls coming to the Nexus and its data-only SIM card. I tested a 20 minute Wi-Fi call with Andy Abramson, a VoIP guru, and the call quality was superb. Testing calls over HSPA+ to my son were also great, but of course, will vary based on coverage and other factors.

Free incoming and cheap outgoing calls

But if I stopped there, I would only be able to make outbound calls to other SIP users. Again, Callcentric had a solution. While it sells unlimited voice plans for $19.99 a month, I make few outbound calls, so I opted for the no monthly charge, pay as you go calling plan. By adding a minimum $5 credit to my Callcentric account, I can now make calls to any phone — a landline or a cellular phone — from my Nexus over the data line. The cost for calling in the U.S.? $0.019 per minute. Given my limited outbound calling, that $5 ought to last me several months.

There are a number of ways to get all of this working, but this was my first effort and I’m generally happy so far. The only downside right now is that outgoing calls show my Callcentric phone number on the recipient’s phone and I’d rather have my Google Voice number appear. Some third-party SIP clients and services allow for number “spoofing” to make this happen, so I may yet change my setup. Ideally, I’d like to see Google add both SIP support and number spoofing to Google Voice.

Data for the win!

Again, I had planned to switch my AT&T SIM between the Nexus and iPhone 4S, but I think this solution is better. I don’t need to swap SIMs and incoming calls will ring both phones. The data-only SIM without a voice calling plan requirement is about half the cost of a traditional voice and data plan, even with the $2.50 a month I’m paying for the Callcentric phone number. And my Samsung Galaxy Tab — which is effectively a Wi-Fi tablet — can still be taken everywhere because its SIM card can be used with the portable hotspot feature of the Galaxy Nexus. It’s a win all around for me.

My deeper dive into SIP and mobile VoIP is far from over, though. I’ll continue to look at alternative options and third-party clients. My next step is a chat with the folks at Counterpath, which offers Bria, a VoIP/SIP client, for both iPhone/iPad(s aapl) and Android devices. I’ll share the results of that discussion in a follow-on post within the next day or two. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying voice calls on my data-centric Galaxy Nexus!

72 Comments

Robbie Coleman

If you have a Google Voice account, you can do this without a separate SIP provider (thus REALLY FREE) by making a one-time purchase of the GrooVeIP app (market link: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.gvoip) for $4.99. It allows you to login to your Google Voice account and make & receive calls.

I’ve been using this over on WiFi only (as I have a voice + data account on tmous), but it also works over 3g + 4g.

Just a suggestion.

— robbie

Tal

Kevin – if you try this please let us know your opinion on GrooVeIP … sounds interesting.

KenG

Do you have to give your gmail login/password to GrooveIP to get that to work?

Michael Towne

This is my concern! It appears you do, and to put it mildly, my GMail account is the key to my identity…

Me

If you set up 2-Factor authentication with your Google account, you can create a one-time password for Groove that will only give that program access to your account and can easily be turned off.

Kevin C. Tofel

Yup, Robbie, GrooveIP is on my “must see” list too; Andy mentioned to me during our test call yesterday. Great suggestion: thx!

sciwiz

Correct me if I’m mistaken, but can’t you use Google Voice to make free outbound calls?

Paul

That’s correct – you could have Google Voice call a telephone number (DID) supplied by IPKall and get free outbound and inbound calls to US/Canadian land lines, plus really cheap calls to overseas numbers (I know Canada’s not our 51st state, by the way).

Kevin C. Tofel

Not by GV alone, but as Paul mentions there are ways to do with another service. I actually got a phone number from IPKall before I found Callcentric, but opted to use the latter solution, at least for now.

KenG

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler if Google just allowed Google Voice to work on Android phones?

AppleFUD

seriously! I’ve been waiting for Google to do something with their purchase of
Gizmo(5). You used to be able to use Gizmo to setup VOIP but they dropped it. . .

I currently have gMail as my home VOIP–works great.

However, isn’t using VOIP over carrier data illegal? Don’t most carriers have some clause the you won’t do such things?

KenG

It’s not illegal, but the carriers would be most upset with Google if they allowed VoIP. It’s inevitable, as there will be some virtual mobile operator using Lightsquared’s or maybe even Sprint’s network to offer a pure IP smartphone, but the carriers want to extract as much profit from the incredibly low cost of call routing for as long as they can.

John Childs

SIP support was added to android in Gingerbread.

Internet calling

The user can make voice calls over the internet to other users who have SIP accounts. The user can add an internet calling number (a SIP address) to any Contact and can initiate a call from Quick Contact or Dialer. To use internet calling, the user must create an account at the SIP provider of their choice — SIP accounts are not provided as part of the internet calling feature. Additionally, support for the platform’s SIP and internet calling features on specific devices is determined by their manufacturers and associated carriers.

http://developer.android.com/sdk/android-2.3-highlights.html

Joshua Manring

That is correct. Nobody ever knew it because the only way you could use it was with a Nexus device or custom ROM. Same as Goole Talk Video Chat. Thank the carriers and OEMs that seem to think custom skins are the only way to differentiate rather than making quality, unique hardware.

Kevin C. Tofel

Yup, I completely missed it until someone on Google+ mentioned it me. Thanks for the catch – I verified it on my old Nexus One and see the SIP settings, so I’ll correct the story. Thx!

Oriol Bosch

I’ve got this feature turned on and using it on Gingerbread in a Nexus One, but I’m not allowed to use it over Mobile data plan, only over Wi-Fi.. How could you enable this? Thanks!!

Kevin C. Tofel

Interesting (and not good, of course). Do you know what’s or who is blocking it? It almost sounds like your carrier or plan somehow, so I’m not sure how to get around it, although I’ll fire up my old Nexus One when I get a chance to see if there’s a setting in there to address this.

Oriol Bosch

(I don’t know why, but I couldn’t reply to your newest comment)
It’s not my carrier who’s blocking it, it’s just the phone who does not try to reach the server. It’s on the settings, where I can choose whether to use SIP it’s clearly written “only wi-fi”. I can choose between authomatic or manual setting and if to register for incomming calls.. but no way to use it over 3G. Maybe it’s a matter of gingerbread or ICS or just the hard of the NxOne that it’s to slow..

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