Movirtu turns your tablet and laptop into a mobile phone

Users can keep their mobile phone number to receive and make calls

Movirtu has unveiled CloudPhone, a software platform that lets users make and receive calls over Wi-Fi networks using their mobile phone numbers on tablets and laptops without a regular SIM card.

Mobile operators have to find ways to compete with companies such as Skype, which offer Internet-based communications that are challenging traditional services. Movirtu's CloudPhone will allow them to do that, CEO Carsten Brinkschulte said.

With the IP-based CloudPhone, tablets and laptops become virtual smartphones, letting users make calls when they are out of mobile coverage range or when their smartphone is low on battery, according to Movirtu.

Travellers can also use CloudPhone to cut roaming costs by making calls over Wi-Fi, Brinkschulte said.

In addition, operators can offer CloudPhone on smartphones as an alternative to improving cellular coverage using small cells. Instead of using small cells, mobile operators can rely on Wi-Fi networks, which are cheaper, Brinkschulte said.

The platform consists of client-side applications and software that operators install in their network. Calls are sent to all devices registered to a phone number, letting users choose whether they want to pick up using their tablet, regular smartphone or laptop.

Most laptops and tablets don't have a regular SIM card. Movirtu instead moves that functionality into the network using what it calls Virtual SIMs. Virtual SIM technology has previously been used to enable multiple phone numbers to be active on a single standard SIM card.

To turn on a new device a PIN code is sent via SMS to a mobile phone. The code is then entered into the client. The communication, including phone calls, is protected using encryption.

Movirtu's CloudPhone is based on WebRTC, a technology that adds real-time communications functionality to Web browsers via JavaScript APIs. It is backed by companies such Google, Mozilla, Ericsson and AT&T.

"I have to say that [WebRTC] is quite mature. There haven't been that many commercial deployments yet, but I suspect you're going to see a lot more in 2014," Brinkschulte said.

There are CloudPhone client-side apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, but the product is also compatible with Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox. So laptop and desktop users can make calls from their browser or a Web-based app, thanks to WebRTC.

"We think the main adoption will be using the native applications ... Most people think that WebRTC has to be used in the browser because of the name, but there is no such limitation," Brinkschulte said.

While Movirtu hasn't yet signed a deal with a mobile operator to offer CloudPhone-based services, there is an interest for these kinds of services. Operators like Telefónica and Three have developed similar solutions. But, in general, mobile operators need to be more innovative, according to Brinkschulte.

"With CloudPhone we are trying to bring back some excitement to an old technology," he said.

Like many other telecommunications vendors, Movirtu is heading to Mobile World Congress at the end of the month where CloudPhone will be demonstrated.

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