Mobile VoIP remains a hot space with a plethora of startups trying to conquer behemoth Skype. Typically these offer the ability to make international calls over 3G or Wi-Fi on a smartphone in a bid to circumvent existing mobile telcos who generate large revenues based on high roaming costs. And although the European Union is pushing hard to reduce the cost of roaming in Europe, it’s still got a long way to go.
Enter forfone, a recently launched startup based in Germany and Austria which sits somewhere at the intersection of Skype and the likes of Viber. The service, which is currently only available in German, is founded by Michael Schöpfer and seed funded to the tune of €500,000 from a group of angel investors, among them Alexander Lónyay, a former shareholder of one of the largest advertising agencies in Europe, LOWE GGK.
Much like its competitors, the service is free for calls and text messages between forfone users. However, the service also allows you to make calls to landline phones (Germany-only for now) for up to 100 minutes per-month entirely free of charge and text messages can be sent to any phone worldwide with a flat rate of 9 cents per-SMS. This is a significant difference to existing VoIP offerings that limit their full functionality to people using the same service. By allowing users to use forfone to call people who are not using the service for free, albeit within a set bundle of minutes, the chances of traction and growth seem a lot more likely.
Another feature, which might make the product more appealing to non tech-savvy users, is that one’s own mobile phone number is used for both text messages and calls. Not having to give out an alternative number and having your existing number appear using called ID on a friend’s phone is indeed a tiny but striking feature.
Schöpfer, who has previously founded VoIP company toolani, is managing director of the company, which is said to be announcing a major partnership with a German publishing group later this month. The app is currently available for both Android and iPhone with support for other mobile operating systems on the way.