We’re still a long way from replacing our traditional 2G networks with all-IP voice calling services, but mobile VoIP pioneer TextNow got a little closer this week. The virtual mobile carrier released an update to its Android phone software that allows calls to move between Wi-Fi and cellular data networks without dropping.
As anyone with a smartphone knows, LTE and 3G data coverage can be fickle, causing your phone to flip flop between multi-megabit speeds and the most constricted of connections as you move through the network. VoIP is particularly sensitive to those big peaks and dips in connection quality.
But by adding Wi-Fi to the mix, phones can select the best wireless network available in any given location, and hand-over between the cellular and Wi-Fi means the phone can move a call to the optimal network mid-conversation.
Canadian startup Enflick originally launched TextNow as an over-the-top messaging app, but it decided last year to separate itself from that crowded space by becoming a mobile virtual network operator. Instead of reselling Sprint’s 2G minutes and text messages like other MVNOs, Enflick decided to go all-data, offering IP telephony and SMS services over Sprint’s 3G and LTE networks.
To be honest, TextNow all-IP service isn’t nearly as reliable as a traditional mobile voice plan. When I tested out the service last year, I had a fairly good experience even when making calls over Sprint’s 3G data network. But there was a long delay in setting up calls, and I was testing under optimal conditions: stationary on my home Wi-Fi network or in a dense city network where Sprint’s data networks are most powerful.
But TextNow also doesn’t charge traditional mobile carrier prices. Its baseline plan costs $19 a month and includes 500 MB of data, 750 outgoing minutes and unlimited text messages and incoming calls. According to Enflick CEO Derek Ting, TextNow isn’t designed to replace the traditional Verizon or AT&T voice and data plan. Rather, it’s targeted at a youth market that wants a basic voice service to complement its usual SMS-heavy communications habits.