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BlackBerry gets free international calls

EQO service uses local minutes and data instead

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Internet phone service specialist EQO has added BlackBerry to the list of around 400 handsets that it says can now make local-rate or free international calls - without using Wi-Fi or VOIP to the handset. Users also get cheap text messaging and free access to all the popular IM services, the company said.

EQO's service uses a combination of voice and data connectivity - the client sets up a data connection to EQO's servers, but uses it only for signalling and messaging. National calls are routed normally, but when it detects an international call request, the client instead makes a local call to the server which then forwards it over VOIP to the destination country.

If the call is to another EQO user, the system signals the recipient and if they accept the call, their client software dials in - also using local minutes - making the international leg free.

"You can download the software and use our service in 28 countries, but you can call to 230 countries where we have agreements to break calls out. For example, it's 1.2p a minute to call the US," said Simon Edelstyn, EQO's European head.

As yet, the service has no roaming capability - the software is tied to a local number in the country where it was downloaded. There's also no email or Wi-Fi support, although those could be added, according to Edelstyn.

"This is an international calling service, not a roaming or traveller service," he said, adding that the advantage is that there's no need to use calling cards or dial a local access number yourself.

He said that the company already had a generic Java client which runs on hundreds of handsets, but that the BlackBerry version was its first native client. Symbian and Windows Mobile equivalents are due next month.

A native client will integrate better with other services on the handset, "but the service is working well at the moment with the Java client," he added.

The system does shift some of the calling cost from voice to data, so it relies on users having a decent data tariff. Edelstyn claimed that, assuming 10 IM sessions and 10 calls a day, plus daily log-ins, EQO shouldn't consume much more than 4MB a month.

The client has its own phonebook, separate from the normal one, and in effect it runs as an independent telephony service on the handset.

"There is no disadvantage to having the client running all the time," Edelstyn said, pointing out that while it automatically re-routes calls, it still uses local minutes and data - and could even generate more revenue-per-user for the mobile network if it shifts international calling away from using prepaid cards at home.

Of course, the mobile networks might beg to differ, because having the EQO client constantly running takes up a data channel and could increase cell congestion. However, EQO is hardly the only service that wants an always-on data channel, so this is a bullet that the networks are just going to have to bite, sooner or later.®

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