Tesco is pulling the plug on its foray into VoIP, giving customers a month to find an alternative to its Tesco Internet Phone and Talk Wi-Fi services.
From today customers can no longer top up their pre-paid accounts and refunds are available for outstanding credit. The supermarket will refund the cost of the handset if you bought it in the last three months*, but both Tesco Internet Phone and Talk Wi-Fi will be shutting down come April 27.
Back when the service was launched it seemed as though consumer VoIP was going to change telephony forever, and the addition of the Tesco brand was welcomed by an industry which felt that lack of awareness was the only thing preventing VoIP services changing the world.
But existing operators weren’t so easily beaten off. VoIP's main impact has been to drive down the price of phone calls for everyone else, while VoIP companies were attacked by those existing operators for failing to provide emergency service calls and not working during a power cut.
Tesco said in a statement that "trends in technology have moved forward since we launched internet phone so that this is no longer a sustainable service". This appears to mean that the supermarket is busy expanding its mobile network and doesn't want to confuse customers with too many products which won't appeal to the majority.
Tesco Internet Phone was basically a VoIP service along the lines of Skype, though the supermarket did offer a Vonage-like box which could interface with a normal fixed-line telephone. There was also Talk Wi-Fi, which enabled handsets equipped with a SIP client, and Wi-Fi, to use the Tesco service for outgoing calls.
Tesco certainly sees a future in mobile. It's been running a branded service on O2's network for a few years now and recently started fitting its supermarkets out with micro-stores specialising in mobile telephony. But the VoIP business just isn't big enough to interest a giant like Tesco. ®
*That is, after December 27, 2009.