BT launches VoIP smartphone app

UK fixed line incumbent BT is looking to maintain its relevance in an increasingly mobile consumer world with an app that allows customers to make voice calls over a data connection from their iPhone and Android handsets, in a similar way to over-the-top solutions providers such as Skype and Viber have done.

The firm will bill calls using the service at the same rates that they are charged for calls from their BT landlines.

According to the firm, the app works best over wifi, but will also work over any cellular data connection. It allows customers to make phone calls whether in the UK or abroad and the app supports up to five users on one calling plan.

The firm is eyeing pay as you go (PAYG) smartphone customers in particular claiming that calls to mobiles at BT’s landline rates are cheaper than standard PAYG tariffs.  It cited its Unlimited Anytime Plus Plan as an example of cost savings its customer can make – users on this plan will be able to make calls to any UK landline number or 0845 number at no extra cost, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Calls to mobiles will cost from 2.65p per minute.

“BT SmartTalk helps you get even more value from your BT package and much more from your smartphone,” said John Petter, managing director consumer at BT. “At last you can actually call freephone 0800 numbers for free from mobiles and get inclusive 0845 and 0870 calls too.”

According to Emeka Obiodu, principal analyst in Ovum’s Industry, Communications & Broadband practice, the UK’s mobile operators are not likely to perceive the launch of this app as a threat to their business, and will instead be indifferent to the news.

“There are already services such as Skype that offer similar services, and it’s not as if everyone will begin to use BT’s service instead of their smartphone tariffs for the majority of their calls,” he said. “This is more of an attempt for BT to claw back some relevance with customers, and engage more with the consumer segment.”

BT also recently announced that it has qualified to bid in the UK’s upcoming 4G spectrum auction, through its Niche Spectrum Ventures subsidiary. However, CEO Ian Livingston has previously said that the company has no plans to become a national mobile operator.

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