Video VoIP calls over iPhone 3G? You betcha

Apple's new iPhone SDK gives the go-ahead for 3G VoIP calls. We tested it out using Fring's video calling feature.

Apple may have focused all its laser-beam attention on the iPad at Wednesday's press event, but that wasn't the computing giant's only announcement. Effective immediately, Apple has given up blocking voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls over 3G data networks on the iPhone, and has changed the SDK to reflect the allowance. Of course, your carrier has to also comply for VoIP calls to work over 3G in addition to Wi-Fi. Luckily for us, AT&T in the U.S. is already on board.

Fring video call on iPhone
We tested Fring's one-way video calls over 3G. (Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

The iCall app was one of the first to announce the 3G compatibility news to its VoIP users. Fring, a voice and chat app that supports Skype, SIP, and video calls, soon followed. We wanted to see just how reliable Fring's VoIP video calling was in the absence of Wi-Fi, so we turned off the wireless and made a few calls.

Fring dials out from a dial pad using cellular, SIP, or Skype, and can also make video calls with a compatible service. We tested Skype video calls within California and from the CNET offices, first with 3G and then with Wi-Fi. We also tested with and without headphones.

Video calls were one-way--we could see our callers through their Webcams, but they couldn't see us. Despite having full bars of AT&T reception, our callers clearly heard only one out of every 5 or 6 words with the headphones plugged in, but we could hear them. We sounded clearer with the headphones out, but couldn't hear as well on our end. Wi-Fi made the voice transaction clearer all around and caused fewer crashes and stalls.

Stability was an issue over both Wi-Fi and 3G. We had to restart Fring multiple times throughout the course of a call. Of course, the Skype service itself isn't without delays and freezes when you use it on a home computer supported by fast, reliable Internet, and we haven't had a chance to extensively test all Fring scenarios with Wi-Fi and 3G. Your experience may differ based on your own surroundings and the technology level on the other end of the line. One thing that's clear is that Fring's service indeed makes calls over 3G--albeit inconsistently, in our experience--in addition to calls over Wi-Fi. Improving stability and performance are the next steps for Fring, Skype, and other VoIP players taking advantage of iPhone's newly relaxed regulations.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.