Zer01 to Offer $70 Unlimited Voice and Data Plan

Zer01 Communications is a new mobile phone service provider that promises to offer a nationwide unlimited voice and data plan for $69.95 per month (including taxes and fees), with no contracts and using unlocked phones. These are truly unlimited plans, without any qualifying quotation marks around the word "unlimited"--you won't find any data caps here. The reason why Zer01 can do this is that the company is taking a very different and innovative approach with its new service that actually bypasses the traditional "carrier circuit-switched channels," and instead sends "voice communications through a VoIP system and onto a virtual private network that accesses the Internet."

Pharos Traveler 127
Using either an unlocked Windows Mobile-based GSM smartphone that a user already possess, or using a phone purchased through Zer01, special software gets installed onto the phone's SIM card. Zer01's CEO, Benjamin Piilani, claims that this software update should only take about five minutes. Once the software is installed onto the phone, it can then use the Zer01 network as seamlessly as it would any other mobile phone network.

Piilani claims that Zer01 is not a mobile virtual network operator (MNVO), but is a full-on "communications carrier." MNVOs, such as Virgin Mobile, typically lack any network infrastructure and instead purchase wholesale airtime from other carriers and then resell that airtime to its users. Zer01 has instead established interconnect agreements with the major mobile carriers, which essentially allows a Zer01 phone onto another carrier's network as though it is roaming (and because of the agreements that are in place, you can think of the roaming charges as already having been paid for). The phones only initially connect to the carrier's GSM network using EDGE, GPRS, or HSDPA data channels, however; from there the connection uses Zer01's Internet-based virtual private network (VPN) the rest of the way.

Piilani states that the technology behind this is a "patent pending proprietary Veritable Mobile Convergence (VMC) Technology" that Zer01 has licensed from the United Technologies Group. Note that not only is the United Technologies Group the parent company of Zer01, but Piilani also happens to be that company's CEO as well.

HTC Touch 3G
If a user doesn't already own a supported phone and needs to purchase one, Zer01 will offer a variety of unsubsidized (but discounted) Windows Mobile phones, including the HTC Touch 3G, HTC Touch Diamond, HTC TyTN II, the Pharos Traveler 117, and Pharos Traveler 127. Zer01 has stated that it will support other phone platforms in the coming months as well, such as Android, Blackberry, and even (presumably jail-broken) iPhones.

The Zer01 service is scheduled to officially launch on July 1, 2009. This might mark the beginning of a trend of less-expensive, unlimited plan options; two and a half months ago, Sprint's Boost Mobile announced its $50 unlimited nationwide voice and data plan. Perhaps more will follow?

Note that parts of the Zer01 site were offline at the time this news story was posted.