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BT SmartTalk

I have previously written about how impressed I am by BT's roll out of their 21CN network. I never thought for a second they could impress me even further but they have! I do believe this now makes me a BT fanboi, but I'm cool with that because I'll be an adult soon.

Whilst messing around on the Internet and checking my telephone usage I stumbled across BT SmartTalk. SmartTalk is not new technology. It is basically a VoIP service operated by BT where your calls are routed over the Internet and you are billed to your BT bill. This means you can bill your landline at landline rates, and not have to pay the ridiculous charges mobile operators get away with (such as charging for 0800, higher charges for 0844, 0845, etc.) and even call back to the UK at UK standard call rates so long as you have an Internet connection. And it's free!

In Australia and want to call home? Got a plan that gives you free calls to landlines? It won't cost a penny!

This also means that it may be cheaper to call someone in the country you are currently in by routing the call back to the UK and charging it to your landline, rather than paying mobile charges. Depends on a number of factors, of course, one of which is whether you're near a phone box, which must be cheaper, surely.

Again, this isn't new technology, but remember that BT is the old dinosaur which has managed to evolve and do so very quickly as their monopoly should be getting challenged. I don't see them being threatened by any major supplier, although I am aware of some of their higher costs: line rental is usually the first thing I think of.

The app itself gives perfect sound quality and there's no obvious delay when talking. There's no real reason why there should be given that the Internet and telephone calls are one and the same these days.

In case you're wondering you cannot receive calls through the app. In theory there's no real reason why this isn't possible but it is not currently an option. The servers would need to know where the app is at all times in the same way Skype is supposed to work, so that adds an area of complication.

And to compare to Skype:
  • The sound quality is immensely better.
  • Some calls might work out cheaper, depending on which plan you are using (they may also be more expensive).
  • If you're already paying for a package for the landline, then why bother subscribing to another service?
  • When I attempted to use Skype for my business calls it went down daily and was generally awful.
  • BT are not owned by Microsoft.
  • The Russian government does not have a backdoor entry to your BT SmartTalk app (hopefully)!
Indeed there are many VoIP services, but with BT I no longer need to bother with the likes of Skype (the Android app doesn't even work on my phone!)

Another advantage is that I now, sort of, have two outgoing landlines in the house. One on my mobile and one on the landline. So now I do not have to wait for the landline to be freed up so that I can make a call at the lower rates. I have to keep reminding myself that the rates are the same as the landline. Brilliant! With Skype I was very much aware of the amount of time I was in a call, although they have introduced subscription packages since I last used them. No need to worry about any of that any more (but the usual 1-hour redial rule applies - a rule I've never really understood).

That's not all: as you may or may not be aware BT Broadband customers get access to BT's extensive BT Wifi network. I am not (yet) a BT Broadband customer. As far as BT services are concerned though: this doesn't matter! You can connect to BT SmartTalk via any BT Wifi access point even if you do not have login details. It makes sense from a business point of view but it impressed me no end. That's great news if you're out and about in the UK in an area with dense BT Wifi coverage, or even if you're near a house with it enabled, and you want to call home for free (package dependent). The BT Wifi signal itself is not encrypted, but that doesn't matter as the BT SmartTalk app does encrypt its data.

PCAP capture showing TLS encryption

BT also have agreements with FON (and probably others) around the globe but I do not yet know if you can use them abroad without BT Wifi access. I cannot find details on that at the moment.

There is one thing that I found a bit puzzling and I hope the reason behind it is simply that they haven't got round to it yet, but I can also understand if they simply don't want to do it: the SmartTalk app is only available for Android and iOS devices. Laptops and netbooks can access the network too, yet there are no applications for Windows, Linux or Mac OS X, or indeed any desktop operating system. Android can of course be used on ARM devices, which are becoming a lot more powerful and appearing on more desktops, but I really don't want to use Android for everything and I will not be using iOS. Seems a bit odd to me but I'm sure there was a reason for it.

Other features and things to note:
  • You can connect up to five smart phones and they can all use the service at the same time (that's six people on the phone at the same time - you might hate each other).
  • Each user can be given only certain access rules, i.e. block premium rate, international, mobile or all of them so that they only use landlines. Freephone services may not be blocked no matter which option you choose - it's not really clear.
  • I believe BT Business Mobile customers may use a different app for essentially the same thing. I'm sure BT will tell you if you ask them nicely.
  • Fair use rules do apply. At time of writing these are 1,000 minutes or 150 calls per month, then you start getting charged. The on-line billing system is good but it could be improved to track this, but that's what feedback is for.

If you're a BT customer then why not give it a go? And let me know please! :-)

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