T-Mobile began offering a calling service for iPhone and iPad users, even though it doesn't market those devices. The operator is expanding its free voice-over-IP (VoIP) service, called Bobsled, to iPhones, iPads and even Android phones. Users with the application can make calls to mobile or landline phones in the U.S., Canada and also Puerto Rico without incurring charges. Users can make the free calls over cellular data networks, which typically charge for the Internet access usage, or over free Wi-Fi.
The new services are an expansion of the Bobsled service that T-Mobile first launched early 2011. Initially, it let people make calls only to Facebook contacts from PCs. In October, it began letting people make calls from Facebook to mobile phones and make calls from PCs to U.S.-based mobile and landline phones.
T-Mobile is also separately launching a Bobsled Messaging application this week for Android phones, with plans to also offer the same package for iPhones and iPads later this year. This app lets users send group text and multimedia messages.
Users will find some benefits to downloading the application on multiple devices. For example, a user can read previous conversations on their tablet that were started on the phone. They will also be able to access their contacts list from the app on both devices.
T-Mobile future plans include issuing phone numbers along with Bobsled. That means someone with a Wi-Fi-only iPad, for example, could attach a phone number to the tablet that friends would recognize when the user made calls and sent messages from the Bobsled app.
T-Mobile has a number of reasons for wanting to get into the fierce VoIP business, said Brad Duea, senior vice president of marketing for T-Mobile. VoIP traffic is only expected to grow fast, he said. "It might cannibalize some core revenue, but we think it is a much greater business opportunity. We do not have a fixed-line business to protect. So we are saying, 'cut the cord, here is how we can empower you,'" he stated.
Some other mobile service providers that have landline businesses are frequently less keen to promote VoIP because it competes with traditional landline phone service.
Currently, T-Mobile is not saying much about how it will make revenues from the service. It plans to bring some new business models to the VoIP market, such as ad-supported services and contextual advertising, he added. The company will discuss more strategies in a couple of months, he said. The apps are readily available for download now from the Android and iPhone app stores.