Israeli company Fring is bringing its Voice over Internet Protocol application to Apple's iPhone. Dubbed fring, the application lets users talk, chat and interact with other so-called fringsters -- and their online communities -- using the iPhone's Wi-Fi connection.
A light, sneak-preview R&D version of the mobile VoIP application, developed in conjunction with the Holon Institute of Technology academic research labs in Israel, is available as a download from fring.com.
The prerelease version aims to measure demand from iPhone users and learn about the user experience. Fring said it is looking for feedback that will influence the full release version, due for launch later this year.
"Voice over IP has been available on cell phones for some time. Nokia through its Gizmo project makes it available," said Avi Greengart, a wireless analyst at Current Analysis. "So this is certainly not new. Obviously, you stick the word iPhone in front of something and suddenly it's news."
An Early Taste
The prerelease version gives iPhone users to an early taste of fring, such as adding contacts and buddies from other online communities.
Users will also have the ability to make free and low-cost mobile calls over Wi-Fi and do IM-style live chat with their online contacts, regardless of whether they are on their mobiles, PCs or other Internet devices.
During login, fring automatically creates a single, integrated contact list, combining contacts from all the user's selected Internet communities. Specifically, fring users are able to communicate with each other and with contacts from Skype, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Yahoo and AIM.
An always-on, always-connected application, fring promises special features such as real-time, PC-style "presence" indicators that continually display whether contacts are online, away, offline, in a call, on their mobiles or in front of their PCs.
There are some requirements, though. Users need an "opened" iPhone with the installer and Wi-Fi access. Fring for iPhone is free to download, but users will have to pay their network provider for data usage.
Coming to an iPhone Near You
Fring was soft-launched in February 2007. The company reports more than 100,000 fringsters are joining the community each month across more than 180 nations.
Fring also operates on all Nokia Symbian Series 60 devices, Sony Ericsson UIQ Smartphones, Windows Mobile Devices, and now in prerelease for the iPhone. More than 500 mobile devices are supported.
But analysts said there are drawbacks to mobile VOIP.
"Voice over IP is subject to network effects. In other words, you need someone who has the client on the other side in order to use the system," Greengart said. "So the more people using a system, the more valuable it is and it can be incredibly valuable for bypassing international tolls. Voice quality varies dramatically. It can be better than a regular phone call or it can be unlistenable."