VoIP Applications (Voice over internet protocol)

Mobile phone users now use data services more than traditional calls and texts – and here’s why...

VOIP is a method of making voice calls using data via the internet. It is commonly used by mainstream cellular networks to facilitate free ‘same network’ calling as part of your monthly bundles.

By using a VoIP application downloaded on to your smartphone it also enables you to make free calls to other VoIP users using the same application. Many apps will also let you make other ‘out of group’ calls or calls to landlines, but check the prices as this is not always the best way to make them.

VoIP based calls using an app from your mobile use 3G or 4G data so make sure you have either a large bundle of data or unlimited data, as lengthy calls can consume large amounts of data. This is especially important if you’re abroad and using your app to make calls as data is charged at a higher rate when you’re roaming (up to £7.00pMB outside of the EU). Where possible either use a dataroam SIM or stick to wifi if you’re using your VoIP app abroad.

Many VoIP apps (e.g. Face Time) will also let you stream visual and audio files and they can use large amounts too so, again, it’s wise to change your SIM card or limit use to wifi hotspots.

  • Skype - the biggest name in VoIP with around 600 million users, lets you make free voice or video calls to other Skype subscribers. You can use it on Windows computers and even on some smart TVs.
  • Viber - like Skype, widely used by around 200 million subscribers, it lets you make free voice and video calls to friends and family who are also Viber users. You can use it on PCs, Macs, all mobile phones and tablets.
  • Vtok - lets you make free voice and video calls to anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Android phone. The big plus for Vtok over the popular FaceTime is you can use it for cross-platform calls too.
  • FaceTime - If you've got an Apple device ( iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) you can make free video calls to other users who also have the app. Apple devices come with the app already installed, so you can start using it out of the box. However, iPhone 4 users can only use FaceTime over wi-fi. Other iPhone users (4S and 5) can use the service over both wi-fi and with a data allowance.

Most VoIP apps can be downloaded for free but some will eventually require an ongoing monthly or annual fee once a free trial has ended so check the T&C’s carefully. Popular VOIP applications include;

And, as for texting…there’s even more you can do with VoIP based apps. Texting is old fashioned and can be costly too. You’re often limited to the number of characters in a text message and networks still charge a premium for sending picture messages.

With VoIP you can now download instant messaging (IM) apps that allow you to use your smartphone to send messages, images and audio files to other users who have the same app as you.

Many text apps are free but some may eventually require an annual or monthly subscription at the end of a free trial. Check the small print carefully and make sure you choose an app that you know is used by family and friends you’ll be in touch with frequently.

As with voice apps ‘IM’ apps use data to send and receive the messages but, unlike voice applications, they don’t use anywhere near as much data to do so. They work in the same way as traditional texts in terms of sending and receiving.

‘IM’ apps are particularly good for groups using the same app especially when abroad as they avoid international text tariffs that sometimes apply when you travel outside of your home country.

There are a growing number of ‘IM’ apps available but we’ve focussed on the most popular to give you an idea of what’s out there;

  • Touch - if you own an iPhone, BlackBerry or smartphone that supports Android  Touch is free to download and you can message your  contacts who also have the app. It's a "cross-platform" messaging service meaning you can message anyone that has the app, regardless of the mobile they have. Android users can message friends with iPhones, for example. Touch also lets you have group chats, and share pictures and videos.  Suitable for Apple iPhone, BlackBerry and handsets that support Google Android.
  • WhatsApp  - like Touch, you can send messages to friends who have the app installed, regardless of which mobile device they are using. It's free for the first year, and is now free to download for all users. Once your one year free trial is up, you'll have to pay a small annual charge of less than £1.00 currently. In addition to basic texting, WhatsApp users can send each other unlimited images, video and audio messages. You can see when your friends are typing a reply, as well as the last time they checked their messages. Suitable for Apple iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia, Windows and handsets that support Google Android.
  • ChatOn – from mobile giant Samsung, it’s free to download. Although it's run by Samsung, it is a cross-platform app, and can be used on iPhones, Android phones, Windows mobiles and BlackBerrys. As well as messaging and sending pictures the "animessages" (animated picture messages and drawings) and "anicons" (animated icons) add a personal touch to your texts and make it a lot more fun. Suitable for Apple iPhone, BlackBerry, Samsung phones, Android phones and MS Windows mobile.

Whichever application you decide to download make sure you check things carefully by following the simple steps below;

  • Is it free – forever, or just for a trial period?
  • Are you charged for cross platform or cross network calls or messages?
  • How many people do you know that use the same app?
  • Do you have sufficient domestic data or access to wifi to use it cost effectively?
  • If you plan to use the app when abroad how do you avoid roaming charges for data use?