Phone users will be a step closer on Wednesday to being able to make on-the-move calls over the Web in the latest effort by Internet-based telecoms firms to grab a share of the market from mobile operators.
U.S.-based Internet phone company Vonage and WiFi hotspot operator The Cloud have linked up to launch a service that will enable Vonage subscribers who have paid for a specially enabled WiFi mobile handset to make calls charged at landline rates from any of The Clouds hotspots in the UK.
When users get into an area covered by The Cloud's network, the special handset will pick up the signal allowing calls to be made. If users wander outside the zone, however, the call will be cut off, and they will have to revert to their traditional mobile handset and network to continue the call.
"It's really a wake-up call for the telecoms market. It's saying there's really a much better, cheaper way of making calls," Vonage Managing Director Kerry Ritz told Reuters.
"This is the inevitable next stage in the voice-over-Internet protocol revolution," he added.
The service will cost no extra for Vonage customers who already pay 7.99 pounds ($14.25) plus line rental to make unlimited Internet calls to UK and Irish landlines.
The handsets cost around 80 pounds and are about the size of a large mobile phone.
The Cloud runs nine hotspot zones in UK cities including London's square mile and Canary Wharf financial districts and Manchester city center.
It also beams its services to many of the country's airports and major railway stations as well as coffee shops, hotels and university campuses.
Last week, France's second-largest consumer broadband provider, Iliad, launched a service that allows French customers using dual mode mobiles (3G/Wi-Fi, GPRS/Wi-Fi or GSM/Wi-Fi) to latch onto a Wi-Fi network when they are in a hotspot but use existing mobile networks when out of range.
Iliad's new service costs 9.99 euros (7 pounds) to activate in addition to the monthly rate of 29.99 euros for the basic high-speed Internet, TV and voice-over-IP service.
The new service comes with a set-top box called Freebox HD. Subscribers will be able to connect to the Wi-Fi mobile service when in the vicinity of any Freebox HD, not just their own.
Last year former telecoms monopoly BT introduced its Fusion service, allowing regular mobile handsets to hook onto BT's fixed-line network when near a box called the "BT Hub" at home or in the office via Bluetooth technology and then jump on to Vodafone's wireless network when on the move.
BT plans to launch a Wi-Fi version of BT Fusion in the autumn.