Commentary

Vonage Goes Where Google Voice Can't

Vonage iphone app

With Vonage Monday launching new apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry, questions were being raised about why the similar Google Voice app is still languishing in app approval limbo.

The free Vonage app lets users make cheap international calls over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The VoIP app for the iPhone makes calls using Wi-Fi when it's available, but calls can also be routed over the voice network.

The announcement follows the Federal Trade Commission probe into why Apple blocked the Google Voice app from being offered through the App Store. Apple told the FCC it hasn't approved the app yet because of issues around the duplication of built-in iPhone functions. Google says the app was flat rejected by Apple.

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Google Voice, which allows free domestic calls and texting, and low-cost overseas calls, doesn't run over Wi-Fi. Instead, it uses a phone number assigned by Google and routes calls via the cellular network.

Apple allows other VoIP apps for the iPhone, including Skype's, to run only on the Wi-Fi network. An Apple spokesperson told the AP that it considers the Vonage app to be in the same category as other VoIP apps that have already been approved. But she didn't elaborate on whether significant differences remained between the Vonage offering and Google Voice.

One possible reason is that Apple doesn't want to take any further actions that would give regulators further cause for concern about its business practices. Apple revealed it has an agreement to consult with carrier partner AT&T before approving any new VoIP-related apps that permit calls on its data network, sidestepping the voice network.

Gizmodo speculated last month the FCC investigation was already leading Apple to loosen up approval process. Today the tech blog said the new Vonage iPhone app was at least better than the "outright rejection" of the Google Voice.

GigaOm had a different take on the approval. "That's likely because the Vonage line of apps doesn't take over the iPhone user experience by trying to replace the voice mail functionality the way Google Voice does," he wrote. In other words, it works more like a traditional phone service than Google Voice.

The fact that Vonage CEO Marc Lefar is a former chief marketing officer of AT&T Mobility may also have helped open the door to the App Store for Vonage.

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