by Leo Zheng
It has only been months since the major mobile carriers began allowing VoIP calls over their networks, and already there has been plenty of progress. A few recent developments, mainly multitasking on iOS 4 and the growing popularity of Android, have made conditions very favorable for the coming of viable mobile VoIP enterprise solutions.
Indeed, a growing number of mobile VoIP developers are taking things well beyond simple 'make and receive call' functionality. Acrobits is one of these developers.
Acrobits Softphone Business Edition is a yet to be released mobile SIP application for the iPhone OS designed specifically with the business user "on the go" in mind. We're going to take an exclusive first look at the application here. Please do keep in mind that this is a pre-release version, and that there may be some changes in the final publicly released version. Acrobits Softphone is strictly an end user agent, which means it is not a B2B user agent, or tethered to any kind of subscription-based service. Think of it as just another VoIP phone - you put in your account info from your service provider, and you're ready to go.
What do I mean by a business oriented mobile VoIP application? My ideal mobile SIP client would be a lightweight softphone that includes all the features and functions that I get from the Polycom and Aastra phones sitting on my desk. Unfortunately this is a far cry from the majority of mobile VoIP applications available, most of which do not have any transfer functionality to speak of (you cannot transfer calls, and you cannot be transferred). Let's start there.
Transfer, DTMF, Conferencing
The Acrobits Softphone Business Edition includes both attended and blind transfer functionality. It also comes with support for DTMF, which means that users can actually get where they want to go when they call into an automated attendant menu (think 1-800-FLOWERS: press '1' for sales, '2' for support, etc). Most people would be surprised to learn how many VoIP applications do not have this feature.
The application allows users to switch between two simultaneous calls going at the same time, and merge and split them into and out of a 3-way conference.
iOS 4 Multitasking Support and Push Notifications
One of the main draws of a VoIP application with multitasking support is that users will be able to receive incoming calls even when the application is not running in the foreground. This was previously impossible in previous 'iOS' versions, meaning that mobile SIP clients were only really good for making calls unless push notifications were enabled, something I will address shortly. Unfortunately, Apple currently only allows applications to 'wake up' from incoming traffic that arrives in the TCP socket, meaning that I was not really able to test out multitasking using my own provider, OnSIP. Yes, Apple's limitation is leaving most standards based SIP providers high and dry. It's rumored that Apple asked Skype how to do VoIP and decided that if Skype is okay with something, then everyone should be okay with it.
That being said, Acrobits has assured me that their background mode does indeed work with TCP being selected as the SIP transport type. They've also set up their own TCP SIP proxy to facilitate this process. Even without background wakeup working properly on my iPhone, I was able to catch a glimpse of some iOS 4 support that did work. For example, I was able to stay on an ongoing call even when I clicked the home button to browse my other applications. A red blinking 'Softphone' band appeared at the top of my screen, ready to take me back to the Acrobits Softphone.
This brings me to the other way to get incoming calls: push notifications. Admittedly, I have a pretty love-hate relationship with push. On one hand, I love being able to know when someone is calling me, but on the other hand I hate giving my account username and password to an anonymous third party. Let me explain. Push notifications rely on push servers managed by... well, not me and not my service provider. Anyone enabling push notifications essentially hands over their service provider account credentials to a third party on a silver platter. We, at OnSIP, invest a lot of time and resources into protecting user account credentials, and all of that work is essentially nullified when a user enables push.
Now I would like to think that Acrobits has some internal security measures in place to make sure that user account credentials are never leaked, but I don't really know what happens behind the closed curtain. VoIP hacking is something that really shouldn't be taken lightly. I would hate to wake up one day and find out that someone used my account for 10,000 minutes worth of calls to Mongolia. Speaking from experience, this does happen. And if it does, your carrier/provider will likely expect you to pay for the calls as responsibility for keeping credentials is in your hands.
Codecs, Detailed Call Histories, and Call Recording
The Acrobits Softphone business edition includes G.722 wideband, G.711, iLBC, G.729a, and GSM. Users can set which codecs they want to use for both WiFi and 3G calling.
Users can select the option to record their telephone calls, and they can access these recordings in the call history tab.
The application includes its own version of speed-dial in its 'Quickdial' tab. Users can also easily add contacts straight through Acrobits, and customize each of their contacts with pictures and ringtones.
The Acrobits Softphone Business Edition is quite easy to configure. There are presets for dozens of supported providers, which means that all those users need to do is input a few key user credentials. There is also a 'Generic SIP Account' tab, but there is nothing out of the ordinary here. If you have ever configured or provisioned a VoIP phone, then you probably won't have any trouble setting up Acrobits.
The actual call quality you get will depend entirely on your 3G and WiFi Connection. That being said, I tested out G.722 in lower Manhattan over 3G and the call quality was very good--miles ahead of what I get on a regular phone call. I was very impressed. G.711 sounded about the same if not slightly better than my regular cell phone calls.
The User Experience
Acrobits Softphone Business Edition looks and feels very good. It's not too complicated, with only a few key tabs: 'Quickdial' menu, 'History', 'Keypad', and 'Contacts' which imports your iPhone contacts. The developers also did a good job of making the call handling features intuitive and easy to use. There were still a few kinks to be worked out to make it ready for public release (for example, SIP address dialing is currently not working), but the application is shaping up to be a serious contender in the mobile VoIP enterprise market.
Leo Zheng manages the tech lab at OnSIP. In his role, Zheng tracks new developments in VoIP hardware and software, utilizing the combined expertise of the team to test and review the latest SIP user agents, whether it be a desktop phone or a mobile SIP client. He currently runs OnSIP VoIP phone reviews, a VoIP hardware resource center for both OnSIP customers and non-customers alike. In addition to being featured in FierceVoIP, Zheng has also been featured on TMCnet.
08/06/2010 - Acrobits Launches New Free Service for SIP Providers
03/02/2010 - More and More iPhone Apps Support VoIP over 3G
Acrobits, a Czech Republic-based mobile software development company, has just released their latest white label clients for the iPhone: PLFon, TeleSIP and sipcall.
This comes on the heels of their recent announcement to put renewed focus on creating white label softphones for the iPhone. These SIP VoIP providers are now on even footing with the VoIP giants that already have their own softphone applications on the iPhone.