Could the end of the phone bill be nigh?

Rising phone bills are a problem for all small business owners, particularly those who make mobile calls and travel abroad – but a new service from Virgin hopes to tackle the issue.

Virgin Media is preparing to launch its SmartCall service, which allows users to make phone calls using their internet connection in a similar fashion to Skype. But, uniquely, SmartCall offers free calls from smartphones to mobile numbers, regardless of operator.

The service, which will initially be available on Android and iOS, will operate whenever the subscriber’s handset can connect to the SmartCall network. This will require a WiFi connection, but there are no geographical limits. This means that users could even be abroad but would still be able to call for free, provided that they were phoning a UK mobile or landline number. This has the potential to significantly reduce roaming costs for regular travellers.

Trials of SmartCall have just finished, and Virgin expects to roll the service out to all users during the early part of 2013.

What are the alternatives?

SmartCall looks set to be a unique proposition, as it wraps roaming and mobile calls into a single package for which the user knows the monthly price in advance. It could therefore be an exciting cost-saver for business users.

In the meantime, though, there are several potential VoIP alternatives. Skype remains the leader in this field, allowing you to call other Skype users for free, and non-Skype users at very low rates.

Increasingly, though, business users are investigating other potential communication channels, particularly when they are abroad. If you are an iPhone or iPad user, for example, you might consider Facetime as a method of keeping in touch. Similarly the Hangout function on Google+ allows for free video conferencing, and requires minimal setup.