Nokia N95 handsets supplied by Orange and Vodafone, in the UK, have had their VoIP capability removed in what looks like a desperate move by the network operators to defend their voice revenue.
Each operator has their own variant of the software pre-installed on a phone handset to allow them to pre-load branding or particular applications they want to promote. But Orange and Vodafone have both taken this one step further with the N95 and actually removed the VoIP capability built in to the handset.
What this means is that nicely integrated applications such as Truphone won't work at all, even though the client appears to install OK the menus and configuration needed to make VoIP calls just aren't there.
Truphone have put together a nice comparison video, showing what's missing. Stand-alone VoIP applications, such as Fring, still work as they don't require integration, though because of that they don't offer such a compelling user experience.
In some ways this is entirely unsurprising: the network operator is subsidising the handset, and so limits the handset to their voice network. Customers have got used to subsidised handsets being locked to one network, so this could be seen as a simple extension of that policy, and there is nothing to stop a customer buying an unlocked (and unsubsidised) handset.
It is, as James Tagg from Truphone puts it "a removal of customer choice", and it's hard not to see a parallel with the way network operators tried to limit WAP browsing to their own walled gardens - back when the industry thought WAP was going to make money.
Vodafone is saying nothing beyond confirming that the functionality has been removed.
Orange told us that this was not a policy decision and that future handsets might, or might not, have VoIP enabled.
Neither company attempted to justify their decision, beyond some bleating about keeping things simple for customers, so we are left to conclude that this is just a protectionist measure.
The problem here is that Nokia advertise the N95 as being VoIP-capable, but the version being sold by Vodafone and Orange isn't, so some customer confusion is only to be expected. Trading Standards tell us that anyone who bought an N95 from Orange or Vodafone, on the understanding that it is VoIP-capable, should talk to Consumer Direct about possible recourse, and keep us updated of course. ®