Virgin Media offers free calls via Wi-Fi, to save landlines

From early next year customers will be able to use the 'SmartCall' app to make calls, if they have a landline contract.

Virgin Media is introducing free calls to mobile phones over Wi-Fi, using a 'SmartCall' app for Android and iOS that will launch early next year.

Sounds delightful, non? The catch, however, is that you need to be signed up to a Virgin Media home phone for the service to work.

If you're the proud owner of a house-bound Virgin Media blower, you can use your home phone package's built-in calls to dial mobile numbers via the app, regardless of what network the person you're calling is using.

The app will only work at the times specified in your landline deal, however. If you're on Virgin Media's 'talk evening and weekends' tariff, for example, the app would stop you placing a call at 3pm on a Tuesday.

In essence then, the new service is a sweetener for those who already have a Virgin Media home phone, or considering signing up to one. Because it works over Wi-Fi though, the app will work regardless of where in the world you're connected -- so you could use the service to make a free call to a mobile from abroad.

Introducing free calls over Wi-Fi is an interesting move, likely designed to keep the home phone business afloat a little longer. With smart phones becoming the de facto way of staying in touch, many people (your humble writer included) long ago ditched home phones entirely and use a landline exclusively for broadband.

The number of fixed lines in the UK dropped by 200,000 in 2011, though as of last year there were still over 33 million of the blighters, so don't expect the humble hallway dog-and-bone to drop dead any time soon.

It's interesting that Virgin Media has turned to Wi-Fi calling, which is another technology that threatens traditional phone companies. Apps such as Samsung's ChatOn or Apple's iChat let people gab without paying for texts, while Skype's mobile app lets you make free calls over 3G.

Do you use a home phone? Or have you made the switch to mobile-only? Tell me in the comments  or on our Facebook wall.

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