VoIP over Wi-Fi and other dreams

Walking along the street, you decide to make a phone call with your cell. Pulling out your phone, it detects a wireless signal and logs on automatically, allowing you to make your call by Wi-Fi instead of using your expensive cellular service. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And hopefully, someday, that dream will come true and we’ll all be able to do just that. How close that vision might be is an open question, however.

A piece in the New York Times has gotten plenty of people excited about the prospect, given the interest expressed by companies like T-Mobile, Cisco and Earthlink. T-Mobile, for example, says it wants to let users switch seamlessly from its cell network to Wi-Fi hotspots it owns, which sounds great. But what if you want to use your phone in someone else’s hotspot — how easy will that be? Will you have to sign on and authenticate yourself every time, and/or pay your provider?

I’m as excited as the next guy about the idea of using Wi-Fi to make Skype calls instead of cellular calls — but I don’t think the carriers are going to make it as easy as I might like it to be, and I think we could wind up with a mish-mash of standards, charges and procedures. As usual, I think Om Malik has the right mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism on this one.

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