Making Internet-based phone calls through leading platforms, like Skype, is not very private or secure. Ostel offers a better solution by providing encrypted calls based on open protocols, standards and software.
Ostel is an app that runs on the Open Secure Telephone Network, a project that is building a secure network for making voice and video calls over the Internet. Ostel officially remains a “public testbed” for that network, but it’s complete enough to be functional in its current form.
To make and receive calls using Ostel, you first need to register an account on an Ostel server. Signing up for an account on ostel.co is quick and requires only an email address.
When it comes to privacy, Ostel certainly looks to be much better than Skype. Calls are encrypted end-to-end and the developers promise that they “don’t keep any logs or records of who is calling whom.” They add, “phone numbers aren’t tied to personal identifiers so you can remain truly anonymous.”
While that’s a difficult guarantee for end-users to verify without access to Ostel’s servers, the project at least appears much more privacy-oriented than a platform like Skype. It’s staking its core reputation on protecting users’ privacy.
Another interesting feature of Ostel is its ability to support a private Internet-based telephone network. Advanced users can download the Ostel server software to set up their own server, which they can open only to individuals they authorize. That’s another major advantage over traditional VoIP services.
Also of note is Ostel’s support for multiple platforms. It runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS and any other environment that supports SIP and ZRTP. Those are basic protocols for data communications and encryption that are available on virtually all modern operating systems.
There are some notable limitations to Ostel. For one, while it supports text messages, it doesn’t encrypt them end-to-end, meaning that they’re not totally private and secure. Ostel also can’t connect to the normal phone network as Skype can. And encrypted video calling is still in beta mode.