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Revisiting Zer01

CNET finally gets a chance to visit Zer01.

Thursday I told you about the launch of Zer01, a new VoIP carrier. At the time, however, information was slim since the carrier's Web site was out of service, which isn't a great sign. But it's back up and running now, and I got a chance to meet with CEO Benjamin Piilani at CTIA.

First on my list was to ask how the carrier isn't a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), even though it depends on major wireless carriers to operate its services. As Piilani explained it, while MVNOs buy capacity from a carrier and resell it later, Zer01 has its own IP backbone and only uses carrier networks to interconnect or roam.

As I mentioned in my previous post, starting July 1 Zer01 will offer unlimited voice, data and messaging for $69.95. According to Piilani, unlimited will mean just that--you'll even be able to use Zer01 devices for laptop tethering. The price includes all takes and fees less a $30 activation fee. Zer01 will not require a contract or credit check.

Use the HTC Touch Diamond with Zer01.

If it foes live, the $69 price would be cheaper than major carriers. Only T-Mobile charges a bit less with an unlimited plan of $85 per month. The service will be nationwide, though Piilani acknowledged that like a standard wireless carrier, coverage will not be perfect everywhere.

All Zer01 services operate as data, which means that you won't be interacting with a standard cellular network. Also, each Zer01 device gets a fixed IP address and it opens a separate VPN session to the company's servers when placing calls or using data.

Partner carriers will get a share of Zer01's revenues, though Piilani declined to give details on the carriers and the revenue split. Zer01's services will work across the entire GSM spectrum including GPRS, EDGE, UMTS and HSDPA.

At present, Zer01 supports only Windows Mobile smartphones, but it promises to support more operating systems in the future. Also, while it has just five devices in its lineup for now--the Pharos Traveler 117, the Pharos Traveler 127, the HTV TyTN II (aka the HTC Kaiser), the HTC Touch, and the HTC Touch Diamond, you can use your own unlocked smartphone if you wish. All that's needed is a Zer01 SIM card.

After a second pass, I have to admit that Zer01 certainly sounds intriguing. I still wonder how exactly they're going to pull it off, so we'll have to wait and see what happens.