Rebtel Launches Android App, Shifts Focus To Mobile

Rebtel logoThis week at DemoSpring 2010, Rebtel, a veteran in the VoIP world, launched an innovative VoIP application on the Android platform.

Rebtel is a Sweden-based company that is dedicated to providing very low-cost calls to more than 50 countries world wide.  In essence, Rebtel offers super cheap calls to third-world countries, aimed squarely at ex-pats who need to call back home.

Rebtel has been around for a few years, and used to be more of a landline/mobile offering whereby a ringback service would connect you to friends and family abroad cheaply through the magic of VoIP.

Rebtel is widely used around the world.  CEO Andreas Bernstrom begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting told me in an interview that the company serves around 55 million minutes of phone calls per month and has 4 million users in 50 countries worldwide.

And with the Android app launched this week, you can now have free (or extremely cheap) calls internationally, without needing a Wi-Fi connection.

How does the integration work?

After you download and install the Rebtel application to your Android handset (I saw a demo on a Google Nexus One), you simply flip a switch on the app to “Intercept international calls”.

Then, you can shelve the app altogether.  Now, dial a number from your native phone dialing menu and if it’s an international one, the app will do it’s work: smartly initiating the call to the phone number of your recipient.  If the caller has Rebtel installed on their phone, the call is 100% free.  However, if the call is to a regular number, you’ll pay Rebtel’s cheap international calling rates.

To trial the Rebtel application, go to the Android Market and search for Rebtel.

Here’s the demo from DemoSpring:

Rebtel Latches On To Mobile

In recent months, Rebtel also launched an iPhone application, complimenting the Android app that was released recently.  In addition, the company will soon roll out a BlackBerry version to meet needs from this user base.

I asked Bernstrom why the sudden move into the mobile application landscape.  He said that many Rebtel customers have requested mobile applications for a long time, and now the company is in a place where they can meet this need.

In the past, international calling services such as Rebtel have required a callback service, use of a website, or some combination of these two activities.  The services were thereby cumbersome and difficult to use.  Bernstrom said, that utilizing the capabilities of smartphones, much of this call set up work can be handled in the background, making the Rebtel calling experience much more fluid and easy.

To gauge their customers” use smartphones, the company recently conducted a survey.  They found out that just of the folks from the African country of Nigeria, some 25% of these respondents carried a Blackberry as their primary handset.  Overall, a surprisingly high percentage of Rebtel customers utilize smartphones of all types.

In fact, as said by Bernstrom, the Rebtel iPhone application generates around 2000 calls per day.  So why not meet other smartphone customers’ needs by embracing other mobile platforms?

Looking At The Competition

I asked Bernstrom who he saw as Rebtel’s main competitors.  I was expecting the answer to be other mobile VoIP companies such as Nimbuzz or Truphone.  However, Bernstrom said that Rebtel’s main competitor is the calling card industry, which they are trying to build an alternative to.

Also, Skype is a Rebtel competitor, but this is where Rebtel can compete on their price.  In most cases, Rebtel’s calling rates are around 50-70% cheaper than those offered by Skype.  For instance, calling landlines and mobile phones in India on Rebtel costs a mere 3.9 cents per minute, where Skype’s rate is 10.6 cents per minute.

What’s Next

Rebtel is continuing to innovate based on the needs of their customer base.  The company is rolling out local numbers for developing nations so that a person in India can call “collect” to their Rebtel using colleague utilizing cheap local rates.  Also, the company is developing WebSMS to make inexpensive text messaging possible.

Additionally, Rebtel is working on a desktop application to utilize normal computers to make Rebtel calls.

Things Are Looking Up

Rebtel already has an amazing usage base that continues to grow.  The telephony startup is small enough that they can take customer feedback and quickly develop solutions for their customers who live in developed nations and call back home to friends and family.

By going beyond regular call-back based voice calls, Rebtel is continuing to innovate and make international communication as cheap and easy to use as possible.