I've been using the iSpot for about three weeks now with the iPod Touch. My goal is to determine whether the combination of these two devices, iSpot providing wireless Internet and the iPod Touch acting as a communication gateway, can effectively replace the more expensive iPhone 4 with its $70 and up monthly plan or other smartphones with similarly priced monthly fee.
In my last update, things more or less worked out as I had hoped. More than less. To quickly summarize, I hooked up my Google Voice number to my Whistlephone number. Whenever I dial out, I use the Google Voice app which then connects to my Whistlephone app. The iPod touch will notify me of an incoming call, I'd answer it, and the call to whomever goes through. When someone tries to call me on the Google Voice number, the call gets forwarded to Whistlephone (Whistlephone offers free domestic calls in the US). Great and it's free.
And while it was not intended to be so, this past Christmas weekend was a good test to see how this scheme would work as I drove all over Los Angeles, venturing in Orange County, and visit new spots where I had no prior knowledge if Clearwire has WiMax support or not.
How did it go?
On Saturday, I was Los Angeles and in safe areas where WiMax coverage exists. Calls went out just fine. Most calls were received but a few did get missed that was quickly picked up by the Google Voice app on the iPod touch. The annoying thing is that incoming calls are delayed for a second or two before being connected with me hearing the other party going "hello? hello? hello?".
But it's free. Can't complain really.
What I did notice was that Whistlephone was not picking up during those missed calls Well, that's fine. When I got home for Christmas dinner, I downloaded and installed the Whistlephone application for the Mac. I figured a land-connection would be more robust than WiMax. Well, the voice quality, for some reason, was worse on the Mac than on the Touch. Still, free.
On Sunday, the real adventure began. We drove to Downtown Los Angeles. Coverage there was fine. I was near the Staple Center and I reckon Clearwire would want good coverage where thousands of people gather on a regular basis for sporting events and concerts. Would not be good for image and business of folks complain about services.
Then we started driving to Orange County. The freeway coverage ranged from good to moderate. I tried to stream NPR and I did get cut off a couple of times. This was much better than when I headed to Long Beach about ten days ago. Once we got to Irvine (capital of the financial and mortage meltdown west of the Mississippi), coverage was hit and miss.
Driving to the South Coast Plaza and getting into the parking lot, I noticed very spotty and bad coverage (red or flashing red on the iSpot - weak signal or that it was looking for signal). I had tried to make a call to my brother but was unable to. Once I got out of the mall and got back into the freeway towards Tustin, coverage got better once again.
When I got to my brother's house, the iSpot light indicator was yellow, which means good. I like the green that indicated strong signal. Fine. Still usable until I got into the house. But my touch quickly switched over the house's wifi coverage so that was good.
When a couple of hours later, I had to drive to another part of Irvine to my cousin's house. And along the way, I had to pass through some farming fields. No idea what they were used for. Oranges? I saw no trees. But along the way, I was surprised by the strong signal that was indicated on the iSpot.
But as I got closer to my cousin's house, the iSpot quickly went from green to red. By the time I got to her street, it alternated between red and yellow depending on where in the car I had placed the iSpot.
During that time, I missed a few calls. More than at any other time during the day and more than at any other time when I used the iSpot. I couldn't understand why. Instead of telling me that is an incoming call, the push notification would tell me that I had missed a call here or there. I was concerned.
My calls were still going through as before. It was just the incoming calls that was being missed.
I was not able to tell if this was a connection issue or Whistle issue. But with other operations such as using the Maps app, emailing, streaming audio, or checking e-mail or updating Facebook, it worked without a hitch. What was going on? Was my plan to use free VOIP for mobile in jeopardy?
When I finally returned home, I found the answer. I think I did. Apparently, the calls may have been going through the Whistlephone application that was still running on the Macbook After using Whistle to make a call that lasted nearly an hour, I quit it and subsequent calls came through just fine on the touch.
By that time, I was on the wifi network at home. Still, I think it was the two Whistle applications that were competing for the same call that was causing my afternoon calls on the Touch and iSpot to not come through.
So, it was not exactly the iSpot, iPod touch, or Whiste that did not pass my test. Over all, I remained convinced that I've made the right choice as far as going the nontraditional for my mobile communication needs. And given more time, this experience will continue to be more robust and additional choices will be available for not only the iOS devices, but for Android and other mobile platforms as well.
I see a future where wireless providers, whether they become dump pipes or not (it's their choices but I'm not optimistic), will be forced to move away from voice plans to providing exclusive data plans and devices like the iPod touch will gain 3G or 4G connectivity and all voice chats will go through VOIP or video solutions
Note: I am eagerly waiting for Google to make available to Android and iOS apps VOIP capability. When that happens, I will no have to route my calls through Whistle or any other options. I believe that will come soon in 2011.