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Online launch voice

INTERNET service provider Online is aiming to compete in the voice call market with its latest product, TalkMobile, a Skype-like application for handsets.

Customers buy US$2 a month in credit to use the internet-based TalkMobile, and then pay prices ranging from about 6 cents a minute for local calls to nothing for unlimited calls to other users of the TalkMobile application.

Online’s new service offers consumers an additional option for making voice calls, a market that is presently dominated by the Kingdom’s mobile service providers, said Chief Executive Officer Bill Merchent.

“We’re hoping we’ll be real competitive with them,” he said yesterday.

Users download the TalkMobile application to their phones – many versions of Apple’s iOS, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Google’s Android operating systems are compatible – and require an internet connection to make calls.

Customers are not required to connect via Online to use the application, and may connect through rival ISPs and mobile companies. This allows for greater nationwide coverage, Merchent said.

Online also partnered with Refresh Mobile, which offers an electronic top-up service that spans 7,000 dealers in 19 provinces, to reach potential customers outside major cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang.

Merchent’s strategy also includes attracting international callers by offering prices as little as 1 cent a minute to TalkMobile users.

While Online will compete with mobile operators for voice revenues, Merchent said these companies still make money when TalkMobile customers call their networks, as Online must pay a connection fee.

Officials at mobile operator Hello said Online’s new offering would introduce greater competition to the voice-over-Internet Protocol market, though company officials said they doubted consumers would choose TalkMobile over other offerings.

Hello Marketing Director Rozy Laxana cited the inconvenience of having to download a separate application and buy separate top-ups to make calls as obstacles for customers. Also, she questioned the quality of the calls made over TalkMobile.

“This TalkMobile service is targeted to consumers wanting to make long calls at an acceptable economy quality of service,” she claimed. “In contrast, Hello is offering its customers premium quality, hence a slight premium in call charges for a more convenient and better quality service product.”

She said global telecom trends pointed to the release of products like TalkMobile, and so Hello arranged VoIP packages to compete with them.

Still, Laxana saw consumers’ need for internet service in order to make calls over TalkMobile as a potential boon for the mobile industry. “Mobile network operators such as Hello can benefit from a higher take-up of data plans to activate the TalkMobile service,” she said.

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