Let Dual-Mode Phreedom Ring

By Eric Griffith

February 27, 2007

This soon-to-debut handset focuses on Wi-Fi first, cellular second.

How does newcomer GUPP Technologies plan to stand out from the multitude of dual-mode phones with Wi-Fi capabilities? It believes the secret is in being truly IP-centric. That is, it's about the Wi-Fi first, and the mobile cellular connection comes second. All the other dual-mode phones available today do it the other way around, claims GUPP, saying that's to its competitors' detriment.

phreedom The one-year-old Malaysian company's first product addressing this issue is the Phreedom smartphone. The design will supposedly cost less, boot up faster (in five seconds, using Linux as the operating system), work with any SIP-based VoIP provider, and provide up to five hours of talk time.

"The dual-mode phones today, the Nokias and the Samsungs and the Motorolas, there's about 20 of them, all have common problems," claims Sanjay Varma, GUPP's CEO. "They're not designed around Wi-Fi -- they're GSM-centric with Wi-Fi thrown in." This makes them difficult to use at a hotspot ("You have to go to the manual to figure out how," claims Varma), and leads to poor battery life. Plus, they're expensive: an unlocked dual-mode phone in Europe goes for 500 pounds or more in the United Kingdom.

Some Wi-Fi-specific phones that don't use SIP connectivity are still proprietary: many use Skype's service to get voice connections. Varma says on a recent trip, carting around SMC's Skype phone, he went to 15 hotspots and was only able to use it to sign in once. "The others were impossible," says Varma. The battery life was 90 minutes. Sometimes less.

However, he notes that the one time he could connect and hold a 30 minute call, the cost savings were enormous. Skype charges just pennies per minute.

"Imagine a device that tackles all of these issues, but is dual-mode and supports [inexpensive] SIP," says Varma.

The company is holding most of the details of the Phreedom design close to the vest. It won't say who the chip provider is, for example. But Varma claims that the improved user interface will allow for just about anyone to sign onto networks without consulting a manual, and that it has built in much stronger than normal Wi-Fi reception versus the competition. GUPP filed a patent on that.

As a smartphone, it will have support for e-mail, it will sync with programs like Outlook Express, and it will have a single phone book that can be used on both the Wi-Fi and GSM sides of the phone to make calls. A full QWERTY keyboard will make it easier to enter addresses. It will even have a video and audio media player. But voice will be the main focus in this initial device.

Will the phone support some of the carrier-centric trials of fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC) taking place with providers like T-Mobile and BT Fusion? Not up front, as those two in particular support UMA technology, which GUPP doesn't. Yet. "We are in touch with [UMA software provider] Kineto and a bunch of potential European customers," says Varma.

He says the downside of UMA will always be the carrier having the control, leaving the end user in a position to get slapped with extra charges. "Can we do it? Yes," he says.

The price for the Phreedom phone will be a non-subsidized $349 to $399, less if bundled with a VoIP service from a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Typical of European phones, anyone who buys the Phreedom and slaps in their SIM card can instantly use the phone with their mobile account, a move that's next to impossible with carriers in the United States.

"Once folks understand, and see the cost savings [with Phreedom], we believe it'll be viral," says Varma.



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