Swedish VoIP company Rebtel, funded by Index Ventures and Benchmark Capital, is getting screwed once again. This time it’s the German mobile operator E-Plus which blocks calls to Rebtel’s phone numbers. It’s now been a week since the 18 million E-Plus clients realised they couldn’t use the nifty service to divert their international calls for a fraction of the original price over the internet. And it’s not the first time that Rebtel has been in such trouble with German mobile operators.
Rebtel claims to have three million users and makes its business by utilizing cheap local phone numbers for expensive international calls: Every contact abroad gets a fixed line number from the Rebtel user’s country assigned. The mobile operator therefore receives only the price for the call to the local Rebtel number while the Swedish company connects the international part of the call over the internet, similar to what calling card companies do. E-Plus would charge €1.79 per minute for a call from Germany to a landline in Japan, but with Rebtel they can only earn cents for a local call. Rebtel charges just €0.028 per minute for this connection and often that’s the only necessary payment because many E-Plus customers use flat-rates for local calls.
Rebtel CEO Hjalmar Winbladh, who this Monday declared at SeedcampWeek09 that he was “closer to bankruptcy a lot more times than being in a position to sell a company”, runs a risky business. The self declared “minute stealer” takes away the highest margin business from mobile phone companies, but at the same time he has to rely on them to connect his Rebtel calls.
One year ago it was O2 Germany which blocked Rebtel calls the same way. Two weeks later the ban had to be lifted, after Rebtel had urged its users to write O2 Germany’s CEO at his personal email address and to bombard the O2 support desk with phone calls. “We hope this has shown other operators that people do not accept being told who they can call and if they can use VOIP-services or not”, Hjalmar Winbladh said. One year later history repeats itself, other German VoIP services suffer from the same blocking by E-Plus.