Local VoIP numbers, international cell calls

For $1 a week, Rebtel subscribers can use their local mobile-plan minutes toward unlimited calls abroad.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
PALO ALTO, Calif.--Imagine being able to use the hundreds of spare local minutes you get with your cellular plan toward international calls.

In a somewhat-ornate process, that's what Stockholm, Sweden-based Rebtel, which kicked off three weeks ago, aims to do. The company's technology, which is in beta, essentially reroutes international and long-distance calls through a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) connection.

At the Rebtel site, subscribers submit their phone number, name and location. They also enter that information for the person they wish to call. Rebtel then generates local phone numbers for the caller and recipient.

Here's where the process gets a little complicated. Once the subscriber has the generated "local" phone numbers, he uses his cell phone to call his local number. While he's on the line, he has his friend call her local number from a cell phone. Because the two numbers are connected through Rebtel's servers, the friends can have a VoIP conversation.

Locating local internet providers

The service costs $1 a week, and for that, subscribers get unlimited long-distance calls, Rebtel CEO Hjalmar Winbladh said. Of course, users have to add that dollar to the price of their local cell phone plans.

Many cellular-plan minutes go unused every month. With Rebtel's technology, extra cell phone minutes can be used toward long-distance or international calls, which are typically very expensive when made from cell phones.

Locating local internet providers

"I have 8,000 free local minutes a month with my local carrier in Sweden," Winbladh said at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit here this week.

Subscribers have to go through the process of getting a number only once for each friend. In other words, once Rebtel establishes a VoIP connection between two particular friends, they can use the generated numbers to connect over the Internet any time.

There is also a more expensive, but less ornate, option. In this option, called RebOut, a subscriber reaches the recipient--at either a mobile phone or a landline phone--when he calls a local VoIP number; the recipient simply picks up. For RebOut connections, subscribers are charged about 25 cents a minute, standard for international cellular calls.

The service has launched so far in 35 countries, and 10 more are set to be added soon. In Rebtel's first two weeks, 10,000 consumers signed up for the service. Each subscriber, on average, has brought 0.3 new users to the network.

Winbladh, who once sold a company to Microsoft, came up with the idea after running into his friend Niklas Zennstrom. Zennstrom recently sold Skype to eBay.

To join Rebtel, subscribers do have to sign up for five weeks in advance for $5. In all likelihood, that will be less than the regular charges for making international phone calls from your cell phone, Winbladh said. "You give the receipt to your CFO, and I guarantee he will be happy about it."