O2 launches trial of new mobile service that allows customers to make phone calls to mobile and landlines over wifi
O2 today announced its plans to trial O2 Connect, an O2-branded VoIP application that allows iOS and iPhone users to make calls over wifi networks from their normal mobile number to any UK mobile or landline number.
“This trial will allow us to explore the potential of delivering VoIP services to customers. We hope to launch O2 Connect as a commercial service in 2012,” explained Richard Porter, Head of Consumer Mobile Products, O2 in the UK.
A limited number of people will be able to take part in the trial to assess how this type of service can be deployed to customers as well as participating in the development of new features. The trial will commence in October 2011 by invitation only and will include O2 consumer and business customers.
The trial will also be extended to attendees at Wired 2011.
O2 Connect will initially be available on iOS and Android smartphones and will subsequently roll out to other devices the operator said.
There were no commercial details available from O2, such as whether O2 will provide the app and calls for free, if it will be available to all users, work when roaming, and work from all WiFi hotspots. Mobile Europe has asked O2 for an update on these matters. (See below)
Mobile operators are increasingly considering the pros and cons of offering telco-own-brand over-the-top type services, reasoning that if customers are going to find ways of bypassing paid-for calls and messaging, it is better to offer them the means of doing so, rather than lose that customer altogether to another app/service provider.
Mobile Europe knows that Orange has been looking closely at offering customers something similar - and the strategy also plays well with the sale of operator-branded in-home WiFi routers plus broadband subscriptions.
UPDATE 12:45pm :
We've had a reply from O2 on this. It should be emphasised that this is still only a trial so some of these decisions will be worked out during the trial. Anyway, it seems the intention is to enable WiFi calls in any WiFi zone "not just O2 Wifi, not just in the UK", and the service will also work abroad - "But you must be calling a UK number.".
As for pricing, a spokesperson said, "We anticipate that some parts of the O2 Connect service will be included within existing pricing; others will be sold as extras." That looks like some sort of Skype-like Free+premium option, perhaps for roaming, or specific number ranges etc.
O2 also addressed the "why do this, won't it cannibalise revenues" question, which we didn't actually ask, but confirms our line above that operators can see the upsides in such a service. A statement pointed to the loyalty and customer experience improvements such a service could bring.
The spokesperson said, "O2 Connect will be part of the overall communications offering from O2. By offering enhanced communication features we anticipate that we will attract new customers and improve the experience for existing customers, driving an increase customer satisfaction."