If there’s anyone doing a better job of making it easier or cheaper to use IP telephony than the folks at Televolution, I’d like to meet them.
The PhoneGnome came on the scene last year as the brainchild of David Beckemeyer, who cut his IP teeth co-founding Earthlink. The PhoneGnome promised free point-to-point calling between anyone with a PhoneGnome unit (actually a pre-configured Sipura SPA3000 ATA), and offered a number of ITSP choices for reduced rate long distance calling.
By providing a SPA3000, PhoneGnome gave its customers one of the most versatile, reliable adapters on the market and allowed them to keep their landline (so long to any worries about 911 or what do I do if the Internet is down), to use the same telephone number they may have had for umpteen thousand years, and still take advantage of potentially free, definitely inexpensive long distance calling over the Internet.
It was perhaps the first really plug ‘n play play. You took it out of the box, plugged it in, and you were making phone calls in under five minutes.
Ahh, but at $119.00 people balked. Some ITSPs didn’t support it. To get the free point-to-point calling you had to get two of them, one for your family here, and another for the family back in the old country. Some people were put off that the box was locked and couldn’t be tweaked to their specifications. For whatever reasons, the PhoneGnome didn’t set the world on fire like David and we at Voxilla (among others) thought it might.
This week, David and his team lowered the bar to entry even further with the introduction of PhoneGnome 2.0. Now, you don’t even need the ATA. No software to download. You can make and receive free telephone calls using your regular telephone just by signing up for a free PhoneGnome account at the website. Any call you ever make to anyone with a PhoneGnome account will be free, no matter where you or they live. You can even register your cell phone number and your friends and family will always be able to reach you with a free phone call.
The no device/no software option requires the initiator of a call to be online. Through any web browser you go to your PhoneGnome account page and click on the number in your contacts that you would like to call. Your phone rings and when you pick it up, your call is in progress. Your called party answers, you talk, it’s free. The called party can be in rural outer East Booniesville, where there’s no internet service at all, but as long as they too have a PhoneGnome account, it’s a free call.
PhoneGnome 2.0 also offers a free downloadable softphone for doing all this through the computer, if that’s your bag. I haven’t tried the softphone yet, but it’s packed with features that those who use the computer as a communication device love to have, and it expands the free calling capability to any of the 25 million SIP devices in use throughout the world today. When David’s tech team makes it compatible with the Mac, I’m sure to give it a try (hint hint).
And finally, the device that launched this enterprise in the first place is still available, now for a limited time at $60. The PhoneGnome Box, as it’s called, is still the best way to take advantage of all the features the PhoneGnome has to offer, like voicemail to email, on-line call logs, contact list with click-to-dial, telemarketer screening, and more. PhoneGnome 2.0 even offers a free configuration wizard to let existing owners of SPA3000 ATAs upgrade their units to the PhoneGnome standard.
It’s clear the direction of telecommunications is toward greater use of the Internet to carry the traffic. Pure VoIP installations may not be quite there for business quality clarity and reliability, but the technology definitely supports point-to-point communication that is indistinguishable from old-school telco service. At this point in the evolutionary cycle, the greatest impediment to wider adoption of the technology remains the difficulty most non-technically oriented people have with understanding how devices work and how to set them up so they work properly. That, and the fact that the vast majority of options still require a monthly fee to use the service.
PhoneGnome got in the game by trying to address those obstacles. With 2.0, I believe they have succeeded completely. Easy. Free. What more do you want?