Blog Post

VoIP, 3G Roaming & G1, aka the Google Phone

So the big day is finally here: Google has released its Android operating system, the latest entrant into the mobile OS wars.

The Android-based, HTC-made G1 was launched earlier today at a ceremony in New York, and among the attendees were our intrepid reporters Liz Gannes and Craig Rubens. After getting a first-hand look at the device, they promptly called me and compared it to the iPhone. (Coverage from across the network can be found here.)

But from a VoIP, data and broadband perspective, I still had questions. And when I finally got them answered, it became clear to me that Android isn’t nearly as “open” as Google and T-Mobile’s hype machine would have you believe. In fact, the most you could say about G1 is that it’s “almost open.” [digg=]

Anyway here are our findings, which could come in handy if you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy this device:

VoIP: Google’s GTalk will work at launch as an IM client but you wouldn’t be able to use it to make any voice calls. Since the OS is open, there are no restrictions on VoIP apps, the company claims. Yet at the same time while T-Mobile has no restrictions on VoIP over Wi-Fi, but it says currently has no plans to support VoIP on their (3G) mobile network, either, a position in line with Apple and AT&T. This is hardly the open approach that was being touted by Google.

Android Marketplace: As for getting into the Android Marketplace, Google will “validate” all the apps but are providing no details as to how that will work, only to say that it will be as easy as possible. Again, the approach is no different (and not quite open) when compared to Apple.

3G & Wireless Broadband Roaming: T-Mobile says it’s boosting its network so that 94 percent of its U.S. subscribers will have 3G access. It will use 3G in the U.S. and Europe and yes, a U.S. user will be able to use the same U.S. device on European 3G networks. All of the phones will have the capability to use both 3G networks; all the phones will be dual-band. (See also 4 Things You Need Know About T-Mobile 3G)

Bandwidth Caps: Earlier it was reported that there would be a 1GB bandwidth cap on the so-called unlimited data plan. Google and T-Mobile spokespeople say there are no bandwidth limitations or caps on the phone and that all plans come with unlimited data. But it’s hard to take their word for it, especially when T-Mobile’s own web site hawking the G1 phone claims that after 1GB of data is used up in a billing cycle, “data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users.”

With additional reporting from Craig Rubens.

30 Responses to “VoIP, 3G Roaming & G1, aka the Google Phone”

  1. Dan Ingalls

    I work from home 1-2 days a week.. We us Skye as our communication devise. If I’m away from my PC for a fer minutes I would like to stay evaluable via skype. So, I wan a skype phone.. What I would like to do is buy google G1 with skype. That doesn’t seem so hard, but G1 has prohibited the use of g1.. I’ve herd g1 isn’t worth the money, so maybe it isn’t suck a loss.

    So, I’ll have yo look got another t-mobile phone that support Skye…..or buy one that can be hacked. The other option it to keep my outdated V3 razor t mobile phone and buy a brand new skype phone Any suggestions tmoble?

    Any ideas tmoble+++????? which t-mobile phone should I upgrade to that has skpe capabilities.

  2. Jesse Kopelman


    The problem with going by radio utilization is that it is mostly a function of S/N rather than what the user is actually doing. The same radio might easily have 4X the bandwidth in an urban setting than it would in a rural setting thanks to the much smaller cell radius. Anyway, backhaul is just as much a scarce/costly resource as radio bandwidth and how much of that is used _is_ totally a function of what the users are doing.

  3. ol' yeller

    Did anyone actually believe this phone would be “open?” A T-Mobile USA phone open?! Please! They’re the most closed network in the US, beaten in their closed-ness perhaps only by Verizon. AT&T actually leads the pack these days in openness, with Sprint somewhere in the muddle (spelling intentional). Openness in mobile is all relative of course – meaning more closed than dial-up AOL.

    I always chuckle when I read comments about the technical feasibility of using VOIP on this or that carrier network. Sure, it’s possible and even done on various phones with OSes they can’t control, but they’ll lock down all the mass market phones and use the political stall tactic of talking about doing VOIP feasibility studies for as long as possible.

    Open application stores?! Sure, if open means getting Handset manufacturer and carrier approval beforehand.

  4. With respect to supporting VOIP over WI-FI but not on 3G, my knee-jerk reaction is quality of service (QoS) issues.

    3G, while faster than anything we’ve seen yet in the mobile space is still pretty dang slow in most service areas (especially on the move) and VOIP is fairly bandwidth intensive.

    It’s likely that t-mobile doesn’t want to flood their support centers with calls about poor QoS with a bandwidth heavy protocol on a network akin to DSL at its fastest.

  5. Its manufacturer HTC called it “The most exciting phone in the history of phones.” I compiled a list of all software, hardware and service flaws of G1 and asked the question, “Would Apple have been utterly crucified and AAPL have tanked if the iPhone came out with so many shortcomings?” in:

    The Big List: 30 critical issues with Google G1 phone

  6. @Om,

    According to Wired’s Daniel Roth:

    “When I talked to Cole Brodman, the CTO of T-Mobile, after the event, about what would stop someone like Skype from designing a program that could run on the phone, negating the need for a massive voice plan, he said he had ‘worked with Google’ to make sure Android couldn’t run VOIP. ‘We want to be open in a way that consumers can rely on,’ is the way Brodman put it to me.”

  7. @libran lover,

    seriously good point and pointing out that I totally missed connecting the two thoughts. Okay, I am not sure what to say except – oops!

    On the issue of 3G-VoIP I will eventually find out, hopefully when T-Mobile team returns to earth tomorrow.

  8. Om wrote: Since the OS is open, there are no restrictions on VoIP apps. T-Mobile has no restrictions on VoIP over Wi-Fi, but currently has no plans to support VoIP on their (3G) mobile network.


    I am somewhat confused by the above statement. If there are no restrictions on VoIP apps, how will T-Mobile stop anybody from using such an app over the 3G network? Do you know if T-Mobile has a way to determine if a VoIP all is being made over 3G and shut it down?


  9. @Frederik

    I am not sure if this is a killer phone for me. It is still pretty me too, and well I am not clear how much data is being sent to google by T-Mobile. Google on my PC is one thing, but on my mobile phone: no thank you. Anyway I think Google makes mediocre products and there is nothing I have seen in this device that makes me think that lack of UX excellence is ever going to change. My two cents.

  10. Hi Om,

    I had the chance to play around with it for a while and I can assure that it will compete with the iPhone in a couple of months and over exceed any Blackberry or other smart phone capability.

    It still needs some work but updates are pushed over the air (no need to connect to a computer ever) and the Google team will make sure to get improvements/bugfixes out in a timely manner.

    There are some very innovative apps out there already that make smart use of a combination of the built-in technology (compass, GPS, accelerator, touch screen, camera, scrollball, etc.). I specifically liked the barcode scan app, the pattern recognition system to unlock your phone (way better than typing in a code, it’s a simple self-defined gesture on the screen), iris scan, lots of location-based services and for sure the deepest integration of all sorts of Google services like Google Docs, Gmail, Gtalk, Maps and many more. The full keyboard is a plus compared to the iPhone and writing longer emails or even documents.

    The HTC G1 is not the prettiest device but it’s a good start with all functionality necessary and I’m certain that there will be more manufacturers supporting Android competing with the iPhone’s form and design factor in the near future (I hope that Nokia will catch up at some point with a great touch screen device, I was a huge fan of them before I got my iPhone).

    I love my iPhone 3G but I’ll definitely get a G1 too, it will be able to compete with whatever is on the market, now and in the future.

    Ref. VoIP: You can always make your low-cost global VoIP calls via ;-)

    Thanks for your analysis and cu soon,


  11. Main stream analysis is at odds with my understanding and I would appreciate if others can clarify for me. Carriers and others seem to focus on measuring downlink bandwidth consumption as the metric. Arguably, a precious commodity is radio resources, which could be consumed disproportionately more by a “lean application” like email. Of course, uplink activity will also consume more radio resource. Isn’t the industry conditioning the market on an inadequate metric?

  12. Om, thank you for your excellent analysis. I can’t say I am surprised that T-Mobile’s idea of “open” is not exactly the same as that of the many people who were hoping that Google would come to the rescue and address many of iPhone’s deficiencies and limitations. If they allowed a VoIP client such as Skype to run over their 3G network, who would need to bother using their phone service?