Vonage iPhone App, A Milestone, Works Well

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The new Vonage Mobile application for the iPhone, available Monday, could change the business world's approach to Apple's mobile platform as it opens the door to new functionality and softens the sting of criticism that Apple has shown too much favoritism to AT&T.

The Vonage Mobile application works: After a quick download and registration, the application is simply ready to use. The interface is very similar to the native phone call interface on the iPhone itself; Vonage bases its service on the number tied to your iPhone, rather than assigning you a new phone number.

We used it to make some quick domestic phone calls, and it was fine. (We used an iPhone, but app support was also released Monday for the BlackBerry as well as the iPod Touch.)

The service is pitching its competitive calling rates for international calls. Depending on the country you are calling from the U.S., rates can vary from a couple of cents per minute to a couple of dollars.

Vonage provides each new sign-up with $1 in calling credit, and the amount of credit you have left is updated on the application's console. You can refresh and add calling credit as you go.

Note: Vonage Mobile is a Wi-Fi service. When we tried to make a call with Wi-Fi turned off by using AT&T's 3G network, it didn't work. The Vonage Mobile app switched off, the iPhone telephone function kicked in, and the call was made over the AT&T network. Vonage also warns you that if you're on a Vonage call via Wi-Fi and you receive an incoming call on the AT&T GSM network, your Vonage call will drop.

Vonage Mobile also provides you with a boilerplate warning that it's "not a replacement for your ordinary telephone service and you cannot make emergency calls using Vonage Mobile."

One neat hack: If you turn the "Airplane" mode on the iPhone, shut off data and GSM communications to the phone, and then turn on the Wi-Fi on the device it's still possible to make phone calls using Vonage Mobile. That means, for example, if you're stuck on a flight and the airline provides in-flight Wi-Fi, you would, theoretically, be able to still make voice calls on your iPhone using Vonage Mobile's application and service. (We tested this on the ground, and it worked.)

The Vonage Mobile dashboard is also integrated with the iPhone's contact list and provides integration with the social networking service Twitter directly from the app itself.

The entrance of Vonage Mobile into the world of iPhone applications is a true milestone. Not only should it give Vonage, which has struggled off and on with its voice-over-Internet model, a nice boost in the mobility arena, it will likely prompt other VoIP-based services to speed up their entry into the iPhone and other mobile devices. The download is free, Vonage Mobile is a pay-as-you-go service and it marries Wi-Fi, mobility and voice communication in a powerful way that had yet to emerge until Monday.

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