Cellular pricing models crumble

* Industry finds creative ways around international roaming and long-distance fees

Several chinks are appearing in the way we've historically separated voice from data, 3G from traditional cellular, and international calling from domestic calling. With many businesses and individuals fixated on cost savings, some industry developments have cropped up to help avoid or at least reduce international roaming fees.

For example, as of last week, Google Voice can run on an iPhone and the Palm Pre via a browser-based application announced by Google. Outbound calls use the mobile operator's voice network to connect calls but actually route them through Google Voice.

More recently, on the fixed-mobile convergence front, CPE maker Agito Networks addressed the issue of international roaming charges by building support for VoIP over 3G into its RoamAnywhere Mobility Router. Traditionally, the mobility router has handed off voice calls between the circuit-switched cellular voice network and Wi-Fi, depending on user location, for least-cost routing.

Indeed, voice over Wi-Fi is one way to avoid roaming and long-distance fees -- so long as it's available. If there's no Wi-Fi but a 3G network service is available (say, in a taxicab), enterprises using Agito's Mobility Router can now make VoIP calls over that network.

Why is this less expensive?

The carriers offer a "$20 unlimited international data plan," says Pej Roshan, Agito founder, who says he doesn't necessarily expect customers to use the feature in the domestic U.S. where unlimited voice calling plans are available.

Meanwhile, individual users are finding creative ways to keep costs down, too. A user I discovered in an online community last week says he is working in Brazil while attending to a family matter. He has used Skype to forward calls from his iPhone to a prepaid local GSM cell phone, which he says has "worked flawlessly" and has dropped costs from $2.50 per minute in roaming fees to $.03 to $.23 per minute in Skype fees.

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