Skype has just released updated software on its web site and the Android Market to allow all Android devices to use fully its voice calling features on 3G and WiFi networks.
Prior to this upgrade, Android users in the United States were limited to making voice calls on WiFi. They could use Skype on GSM networks overseas if they downloaded the non-Verizon Skype version. Only for a brief period did Skype work on Android tablets on 3G, but was then withdrawn, as I wrote about last month.
Now, Skype’s Voice-over-Internet calling will also work on Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab. This option has been eagerly awaited by these users because they were blocked from making and receiving landline or Skype-to-Skype calls over 3G.
Apple customers have been able to place and receive both voice and video Skype calls over WiFi and 3G on Verizon and ATT with their iPhone 4 and iPad 2 devices. Verizon customers with selected Android and Blackberry handsets have had this capability since April 2010 when Skype was integrated into their 3G network.
It is puzzling why the Verizon and ATT 3G networks can support Skype video calling on Apple products but not for the Android platform. So I asked Skype whether they had a special arrangement with Apple by which only iPhone and iPad customers could fully utilize communications features in the software. Their only response was the following statement, which really does not address the question of a preference to one hardware manufacturer: “Video calling on mobiles is a key priority for Skype. Our customers can expect to see Skype continue to bring Skype video to more mobile products this year, including Verizon Wireless 4G Smartphones (as announced at CES in January). “
The failure to allow video calls on Android devices is even more perplexing when you consider that you can place and receive video calling through Google Talk software over the same 3G Verizon network using the Motorola Xoom, with equivalent video and audio quality to that of Skype.
Verizon global rate plans and the use of Skype
Verizon quietly terminated its unlimited international email and data plan for non-corporate users around the end of January of this year. I would strongly advise everyone that currently has this plan to keep it. It is the best deal around and costs about $30 per month extra for the global feature. According to Verizon, anyone currently on the plan is grandfathered in, but if any changes are made to the account in terms of plans, phone numbers, porting of numbers, or termination of contracts, they will lose the option and cannot get it back. Corporate customers still enjoy unlimited email and data throughout the world.
Verizon was the only major carrier in the U.S. to offer unlimited global data and email access from a handset. T-Mobile used to have a similar plan for Blackberry, but killed it about three years ago, although for $20 per month, grandfathered customers (like myself) can still have unlimited global email service.
While not providing unlimited data from which Skype or other VoIP services could be run, T-Mobile still allows Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) calling on WiFi from anywhere in the world, which essentially means free phone service back to the United States. UMA is a special feature for certain Blackberry devices and turns any hotspot into a micro-cell site. If the ATT-T-Mobile merger is approved, let’s hope that ATT won’t eliminate this calling feature in favor of generating more toll traffic and revenue. Knowing ATT, however, I would not bet on it.
Now, if you are a Verizon customer without the global data plan, you must pay on a per/megabyte basis for data access, which can be extremely costly, even with their new rate tiers.
If you currently have the global unlimited plan, why is all of this important? Because you can use your handset overseas in conjunction with Skype (or Fring) to make essentially free calls anywhere there is EDGE or 3G service available on a GSM network. This is incredibly convenient when you are not using a local SIM card or MiFi terminal and can virtually eliminate costly phone bills when traveling. Remember that VoIP is a data service, which means that with an unlimited data plan there is no billing for usage, unlike voice calls.
I recommend not using this option unless absolutely necessary, preferring the use of an inexpensive local SIM card purchased in each country. However, if you are only in-country for a short period, then SIM cards are not a cost-effective solution.
Skype’s new software, Android Version 1.0, will make it easier to place and receive calls over any GSM network while traveling for any Android user, regardless of their home carrier. It is unclear whether Verizon customers will be able to use this same software on a CDMA network, however, unless they download the Android Market version, in addition to the Verizon Skype Mobile version which is already installed on their handsets.
My experience on CDMA (compared to GSM networks) overseas is a different issue. GSM is the predominant format in the world. Where CDMA can be found in about forty countries, GSM is prevalent in more than 220 countries. All Verizon phones are CDMA compatible, but only a few have dual-mode capability.
On both the Blackberry Storm 2 and Droid Pro (both dual-mode phones), access is blocked for GSM carriers if there is a CDMA signal available, unless networks are manually selected to bypass the Verizon roaming software. This is a particular nightmare for the Motorola Droid Pro phone because of glitches in software that I have brought to Verizon’s attention months ago, and they have thus far refused or been unable to address.
I don’t know if it is Verizon, Motorola, or Google Android software that is the problem. Verizon refused my offer to provide detailed documentation of the problem that I captured while I was in Brazil in December, nor would they allow me to brief their lab techs, stating that they were “not allowed” to talk to customers. Brilliant!
The result is a phone that sometimes works on foreign networks, and often does not, except on CDMA, and then only for voice; no data. Even if the Droid Pro does work on a CDMA network with data, it may block you from receiving emails because of software bugs.
I have repeatedly asked Verizon about the problem of CDMA carrier preference to the exclusion of GSM carriers, and they insist they do not know the answer but it would appear they are blocking access in favor of roaming agreements with CDMA partners.
When I inquired of Skype if their new release would work on CDMA carriers outside of the United States, their response was that “Skype for Android can be used over 3G on CDMA phones internationally, but may not work on Verizon phones outside of the US.” I will be back in Europe in two weeks and will run tests to determine whether Verizon handsets, on CDMA, will allow Skype calling. Stay tuned.
If you travel to Taiwan and need to use your Verizon Blackberry or Android for email or Internet access: Forget it
I am just completing an around-the-world fact-gathering trip for my new book with regard to technical communications and security issues in Europe, the Middle East, and Far East. In the past three weeks, I have utilized GSM and CDMA networks in Germany, Holland, Israel, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. The CDMA roaming issue is a particular problem in Taiwan. This is not new to Verizon, and I first raised it four years ago with their International Management Group. Some CDMA systems, like Taiwan’s, do not support data, or they have not agreed to allow Verizon customers to roam on their networks for other than voice calls.
I was using my Droid Pro, which prevented me from registering on one of several GSM networks which were present on my T-Mobile Blackberry.
In Taipei, if I had not had my T-Mobile GSM Blackberry, I would not have been able to receive emails. This also prevented the use of Skype on other than WiFi hotspots. So the caveat is that if you have a Blackberry, Android, or iPhone and need to receive emails in Taiwan and are a Verizon customer: forget it. Notwithstanding their representations to the contrary, there appears to be no data service in Taiwan.
Skype Service Summary
Skype currently supports mobile devices for Android, iPhone and Symbian. This means that you can make and receive voice calls to and from landlines, and Skype-to-Skype voice calls on all three platforms, and to PCs. Mobile Skype-to-Skype video calling is currently only available for iPhone and iPad 2. If you have an Android tablet, it should now be fully functional for voice calls on 3G network protocols.
Certain Verizon Blackberry devices also support Skype Mobile and Skype-to-Skype audio calls, but these are utilizing Skype software that is written for Verizon handsets. I tried downloading the Skype mobile software from the Skype site for my T-Mobile Blackberry Bold. It would not allow me to do so, stating that it was only for Verizon handsets. So it appears that the exclusive relationship between Verizon and Skype with regard to accessing their services over 3G is still limited to Verizon Wireless in the U.S..
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