Voice-over-GoogleFi

GoogleFi, Google’s Mountain View network, may be good for data connections, but is it good enough for making voice calls? In order to find out answers, I headed down to Mountain View to conduct some first hand tests, and well, make some VoIP calls.

Voice over WiFi has the potential to be one of the most disruptive applications for city-wide WiFi networks, unlocking callers from expensive cellular networks. But MuniFi and even WiFi hotspots, many (including Om) argue is not yet reliable when it comes to making phone calls and the devices are still quite complex.

So during another hot daytrip to sunny Mountain View, we took our handhelds and laptops in tow, and spread out our gear under a tree in a city park. First we just tested basic Skype running over a Mac laptop.

The biggest issue is just sitting in a spot with a fast enough connection to the closest access point. After a few tries, we were able to connect and make a regular Skype call to another Skype user online, and managed to get pretty decent voice quality. It’s not as easy or clean as cellular, but it works well enough and it is free!

Test one out of the way, it was time to stress test the network using non-PC devices. We fired up the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet running the Gizmo Project application, which can connect VoIP calls to regular phone numbers. It costs a few cents to make outgoing calls, but we could call anyone over the public phone system and its still pretty cheap.

One problem we noticed with the service is there was a slight lag time between when I called and the listener got the signal. The lag time was large enough to be noticeable. Despite that the call quality was quite clear. Our Pocket PC phones did not play nice with the network, but that might be some configuration issues on our end.

So what is our conclusion? If your call is critical and you’re in a big hurry, and not willing to tinker with new technology, stick to your cellular handset.

Now, if you’re willing to give up the ease-of-use of your mobile handset, then, Google’s Mountain View network is not bad. If you find a spot where the signal is pretty strong, the calls can be as good as cellular calls. It might be just me, but the prospect of cheap or free phone calls over a free network, is something to get excited about.

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