Vonage is sweetening its Internet calling service by extending its international unlimited calling plans to mobile phones.
The company today introduced Vonage Extensions, which basically extends its home voice calling service to any cell phone. This means that customers who subscribe to the company's $25.99 Vonage World service will be able to make an unlimited number of calls and talk as long as they like to landline phones in more than 60 countries and to cell phones in 10 countries from their mobile phones just as they do from their home phones.
"About 50 percent of the international calls from the U.S. are made from a mobile phone," said Mike Tempora, senior vice president of product management for Vonage. "Most people use a calling card or pay high rates from a wireless carrier. So we felt this was a great opportunity to extend our service to these customers."
The Extensions service allows Vonage subscribers to extend their service to one additional phone number for free. Eventually, the company will allow people to add more phone lines to the Extensions program for a fee.
Vonage's traditional home phone service works by routing phone calls over a broadband connection. The calls travel over an IP network until they reach a local phone network on the other side. Then those calls are routed by a local carrier to the phone number dialed by the Vonage customer.
The Extension service, which allows calling from cell phones, works a little differently. Instead of using the Internet and your cell phone's data service to make phone calls, Vonage Extensions operates like a calling card service, which routes phone calls over the carrier's voice network. >
After registering their mobile phone number with Vonage, subscribers punch in a PIN code and then the number they calling. Calls made using the Extensions service are counted against a cell phone user's domestic calling minutes. And the service works with any mobile phone, regardless of whether it's a smartphone or a regular feature phone.
That said, Vonage recognizes the importance of smartphones. And it's developing apps for the iPhone and Android smatphones that will simplify the process and allow people to dial a number from their contact list without entering a special code each time.
Tempora says that traditional carriers are the company's biggest competition. But Vonage isn't the only company catering to an audience looking for low cost international calling.
There are a slew of companies offering low-cost or free calling for smartphones from mobile hot spots. Vonage introduced a Wi-Fi hot spot app in 2009.
But Skype is by far Vonage's biggest competitor. Skype, which is being acquired by Microsoft, allows people to make free calls using the Internet to other Skype customers connected to the Net. It also offers low-cost calling to landlines and cell phones around the globe from a Skype account.
Like Vonage, Skype offers smartphone apps that allow people to make calls over the Net from a Wi-Fi hot spot. But it also has partnered with Verizon Wireless and the Skype service is integrated into Verizon 3G phones to allow customers to make calls without being in a Wi-Fi hot spot. Skype has also added video calling for iPhone and Android smartphones.
But Tempora said Vonage's service can reach more customers.
"What is different about Extensions is that it works on any phone," Tempora said. "You don't need to a smartphone or an advanced feature phone."
The Vonage Extensions service is available now. Existing Vonage customers can sign up for the service online.