By Lesley Hunter
THIS IS THE STORY of a Canadian telecom lawyer who got so fed up with paying wireless roaming and long distance charges that he decided to do something about it. One year later, zerofone was born.
Zerofone is a free app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch that allows callers to bypass their wireless company’s voice network to use WiFi or a 3G mobile data connection to make and receive phone calls. The calls don’t count against a users’ wireless plan, do not require switching phones or carriers, and are simple to make. And, they can shave a lot of money off of a typical monthly cell bill.
“The end result is that our customers don’t get charged their cell providers high LD (long distance) and roaming charges and they’re not using up their cell plan minutes so they can save 90% or more on their cell phone bill”, founder Ben Rovet told Cartt.ca.
The Toronto-based lawyer created the mobile VoIP company Zerofone Inc. in 2009, becoming the first Canadian provider to offer a service of this nature (though there are similar companies in the U.S. and Europe). The app launched in beta mode in 2010, the official version debuted in January, and the newest version was released a few weeks ago. Rovet says that business is brisk, and that zerofone now boasts customers from Canada, the U.S. and worldwide.
“Daily uptake has been pretty steady over the last few months, but we've been getting some media coverage so there have been some spikes recently”, Rovet continued. “As for the new version release on February 23rd, we have seen an almost 300% increase in downloads and free trials since that version was posted.”
After downloading the app from the iTunes store, all users start off with a 10 minute free trial before choosing to purchase a monthly plan, (priced from $4.99 to $9.99 a month for North American calls, or $7.99 to $19.99 for international calls); a one-time travel plan, (600 minutes of North American calling for $9.99 or 500 minutes of international calling for $14.99); or a country-specific calling package. The plans are pre-paid and users are not required to sign a contract. To help keep track of their remaining minutes, zerofone sends users an email when their minutes are running low, plus provides a minutes display on the app’s dial pad screen.
Rovet described zerofone’s call quality as “very good”, and free from the typical jumpy or echoy noise associated with other VoIP products, thanks to the network’s underlying tier one carrier.
While currently available only for Apple devices, Rovet is working on a similar app for Android which he expects to launch later this year, and confirmed that a BlackBerry version is also in the works.
“This is the beginning, I hope, of something that could really change the way that people communicate, so I really want to focus on making this service as good as possible”, he said. “I’m happy that we’ve achieved our initial goal and developed a service that helps people potentially put an end to their huge cell phone bill - if I’d had this service two years ago, my $700 phone bill could have been $10, or 98% less, which I feel speaks for itself. With a service like zerofone, why would anyone want to pay $1.35 a minute when there’s the potential for these great savings?”