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BT's shock new wheeze: Make phone calls from smartphones

There is method in this VoIP app madness

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BT customers can now make calls over the internet from a smartphone app and have the cost added to their landline bill.

The national telco's SmartTalk service is available for iOS and Android, and lets a landline customer register up to four users who can make calls that are added to that landline's bill, or deducted from the bundled minutes, just as long as they've got a decent Wi-Fi or mobile data connection to carry the call.

The voice-over-internet app is free to BT customers, but only supports outgoing calls. However, the calls are billed and routed as though they originated at the landline address, which could have free calls to other UK landlines (depending on the BT calling plan), and that's likely to be the biggest draw.

Online chat service Skype and its VoIP ilk provide free calls to other users of the same service, and can receive calls too. But calls to landlines cost money and require something akin to SkypeOut credit for connection and per-minute charges, for those not wanting to take out a monthly subscription.

Having the cost added to the existing phone bill will be attractive, and with the landline owner being able to restrict the numbers called (thus locking out premium-rate lines) one can imagine parents offering to add their children's phones to the supported list.

Whether the children, or indeed the adults, make use of it is another matter as they're likely to be more concerned about their data usage than voice minutes. Those with the latest smartphones tend to be locked into contracts that already offer an unfeasibly generous quantity of minutes, and Wi-Fi is far from ubiquitous even with BT's public wireless connectivity for those who also get their broadband from the former monopoly, so it's unlike the SmartTalk servers will be immediately overloaded.

But BT had to offer a service of this kind and join the throng in attacking mobile revenues: Virgin Media has announced much the same thing with SmartCall, although Virgin is still at the "taking names" stage but it should go live soon. Neither product is going to change the world but both reflect the changing nature of the industry, and the diminishing role of voice within it. ®

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