On September 23, Om Malik wrote a post regarding Nokia’s support of mobile VoIP service in the newest Nseries handsets from Nokia.Â For those unaware, Nokia has been very hospitable to using Internet telephony on their mobile handsets by 1) including Wi-Fi as an on-board capability and 2) by supporting VoIP via included software (called DLL files).
Om’s post noted the absence of the VoIP software mentioned above in the latest Nseries handsets, namely the N78 and N96.Â Malik went on to hypothesize that Nokia had turn its back on mobile VoIP companies such as Fring, Truphone, and Gizmo5 by removing the VoIP software from these and future Nseries handsets because of pressure from cellular carriers.
A few days later, Nokia countered Malik’s view and stated they have not removed VoIP from the new handsets, they just changed the code around and therefore mobile VoIP software companies needed to re-configure their software to adapt to the new APIs Nokia had released.
So, GigaOm says one thing, and Nokia quickly counters.Â What is the real story?Â I sought to find out.
Through recent interviews with Tom Carter, Truphone President of North and South American Operations and Alistair Cambell, Truphone’s CTO; here is what I have gathered:
Truphone Caught Off-Guard
A few months ago, when the N78 and N96 arrived at Truphone, the Truphone engineers noticed that the Internet telephony menus and folders were not present on the new devices.Â Further digging revealed that the 2 or 3 key .DLL files that support the VoIP client were not present.Â Truphone contacted Nokia to find out why the DLLs were not present, and Nokia confirmed the absence and offered only vague answers as to why.
I asked Campbell if Nokia had disclosed the absence of the VoIP software prior to the discovery by Truphone and he said earlier specifications from Nokia about the N96 and N78 showed VoIP as a shipping feature.Â However, Nokia does state that such specs are subject to change at any time, and apparently, they decided to remove the DLLs without any notice prior to Truphone receiving the handsets.
Both Campbell and Carter said that they have been grateful that Nokia has offered the hardware/software capabilities that enabled Truphone to run on Nokia handsets, but the move to take away VoIP software components was a step backwards for the Finish mobile company.Â Truphone was unaware and caught off-guard by the absence of the VoIP software on the new (and future) S60 handsets.
Where Nokia and Mobile VoIP Stands Today
Both Campbell and Carter believe Om was not completely accurate in his September 23rd post.Â They both said they don’t have any reason to believe Nokia removed the VoIP software because of any pressure from carriers.Â Campbell stated he thinks Nokia has a strategy in mind and for some reason they are not revealing it at this time.
As of today, it is not possible for Truphone to run on either the N78 or N96.Â To enable Truphone on the new handsets, according to Cambell, Truphone would either have to build their own VoIP client or license some third party implementation.
To enable VoIP on the new handsets, Nokia has implemented a new application interface (API) called the VoIP Audio Service API (also called VAS).Â Nokia claims this new API, which replaces the former VoIP client that Truphone has used for years to power their service on Nokia handsets, vastly improves call quality and adds new functionality, such as the ability to switch between speakerphone and hand-held calling.
In Om’s blog post, Nokia states to him that they would “cooperate with third-party developers to support them in porting their applications from S60 3.0/3.1 releases to S60 3.2”.Â However, according to Campbell, there has only been minimal communications from Nokia to this effect, rather than an active collaboration to get Truphone restored on the new Nokia handsets.
I asked the Truphone executives what steps they are taking to get Truphone working on the new Nseries handsets.Â Campbell replied by saying they have a working prototype of an implementation, but wouldn’t go any further in detail.Â I suspect that Truphone will soon release a new Truphone client for the N96 and N78 built on a self-engineered VoIP client that utilizes the afore mentioned VAS API.
Obviously, Nokia has an intent that is not known to the mobile VoIP industry.Â The handset maker apparently has re-engineered the VoIP client for some reason.Â Does Nokia have an initiative that involves their own mobile VoIP offering?Â If this were true, I can see Nokia re-engineering third-party provider’s access to the VoIP software and giving them a less functional implementation.Â This is called ‘sandboxing’ in the software world and is exactly the same approach Apple has taken with the iPhone and iPhone application developers.
Unfortunately the active non-inclusion of the VoIP software is directly impacting the bottom third party software developers such as Truphone.Â A more friendly way of implementing this change would include advanced notification for your development partners and an active collaboration between Nokia and companies like Truphone.
With Symbian going open source and Android devices coming on the market soon, hopefully the application development process will become more transparent and those companies who depend on components existing as new devices will see changes of this nature.