iOS 7 was seeded to the iPhone 4 and above on 18th September 2013. One of the lesser highlighted features of this otherwise major overhaul was FaceTime Audio (Yes, the ironic name deserves a few laughs). It allows you to make phone calls over the Internet just like Skype or Viber. Pro-iOS users guffawed at this feature as you could achieve this pre-iOS 7 too, by making a FaceTime video call and then pressing the home button. Anyway, after the feature was launched, I happened to call fellow iPhone users over FaceTime Audio to try it out.
It was relatively easier as you don’t have to open a separate app — simply choose Facetime Audio instead of a regular phone call from the dialler menu. Next, after disconnecting the call, another interesting statistic came to notice; along with call duration, the dialler app also showed me how much data was consumed.
For the next several days, I continued making phone calls using Facetime Audio to test it extensively. I placed calls on WiFi when at home or office, and even on 3G while travelling. These are my test notes when making calls over VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) instead of the traditional way:
– The first thing I noticed was the difference in quality — it was phenomenally better than a typical cellular call. I have used alternative VOIP apps like Skype and Viber too and although they’re pretty clear too, I could make out a discernible difference when on FaceTime Audio.
– On an average, the data consumption of my calls was logged at around 500 KB per minute; using FaceTime Audio and even Viber. Now while this is of little concern when you’re talking on unlimited WiFi internet connections, there was a potential concern when on 3G (or so I thought). I’m subscribed to a 3G plan where 1GB of data costs me Rs. 250. So, cost per MB comes to 24 paise, thereby 500KB of data should cost me about 12 paise. That’s less than half of what my operator charges me for a minute worth of a phone call. So, theoretically it is cheaper. But with a caveat — with typical calls, it is only the caller that has to pay. But in case of VOIP calls, both parties are charged the same amount of data. So, if the other person is using 3G too, both will consume the same amount of data on their respective plans.
– Making VOIP calls on the move will require you to have a solid 3G connection as you move. There were times when my phone dropped from 3G to 2G, and as a result of such fluctuations, there was radio silence for a couple of seconds, before the call resumed again. There were also a couple of times when the call dropped. But then hey, its not like typical cellular calls don’t drop now, do they?
– There was an expected heating of the phone when I talked for long on FaceTime Audio. Expected, because this sort of behaviour also occurs when I’m intensively using 3G on the iPhone. And this is not an iPhone-exclusive observation, pretty much every phone I’ve used on 3G tends to get warmer than usual.
– I can’t confirm this; but I felt the battery was draining out a bit faster on VOIP calls than typical ones. Again, I trust this is owing to the usage of 3G, which by itself is a battery-killer when used extensively.
In conclusion, there are many stumbling blocks to migrate to VOIP calls in a big way — spotty network coverage, battery drain and heating, the fact that the other person should also be on a good WiFi or 3G network when you place a call. But I’m willing to embrace these shortcomings in exchange for far better audio quality and some savings in the process. Telecom pundits I’ve spoken to have prophesied that in the future telecom companies will sell you only data; SMS and typical cellular calls will be a thing of the past. So, it would be upto you to consume that data via either calls over IP (audio and video), instant messaging, streaming video, data etc. I’m ready to beta-test this bandwagon. Are you?