TalkPlus Is Not Just For Dating

TalkPlus believes its just-announced patent-pending plans to centralize voice services on the cell phone addresses many needs: privacy, mobility, accessibility and even “safe” dating.

Yes, it’s hard to market many of the new products in the so-called “Voice 2.0” space because they don’t easily lend themselves to pithy press release descriptions (nor, as this story certainly attests to, concise journalistic presentation). So the San Mateo, CA.-based Talk Plus is launching the service and application it has been developing for two years in a way virtually anyone who has ever dated can understand.

“A woman at a bar doesn’t want to give her cell phone number to some guy she just met,” is how one executive at the company began explaining TalkPlus to me a few weeks before the company officially announced its product. “So she gives him a number she got from TalkPlus, and when the guy calls that number, it’s routed to her cell phone. If she calls the guy back, the number he sees on caller ID is the TalkPlus number.”

When she finally figures out the guy’s jerk, she just cancels the number, he said (and presumably goes to a bar in a different neighborhood next time).

This may not sound like a sure-winner in the increasingly crowded voice service world, but marketing approach aside, TalkPlus is poised to do something Cingular, Verizon, et al have not managed to do: make the cell the only telephone you need — at home, at work, at play and in between.

When fully rolled out over the coming year, TalkPlus customers will be able to:

* Sign up for multiple virtual numbers, all of which ring on a single cell phone and which can also be used as outgoing numbers;
* Add any phone number you have (i.e.: your home phone, office phone, etc.) to the service so that you can use it exactly as you would a virtual number;
* Maintain multiple telephone personalities through a “Personality Manager” accessible via a browser and through a cell phone’s dialpad;
* Store all the telephone numbers on your cell phone (support for Outlook and other contact managers to come) on the TalkPlus server for easy “click-to-call;”
* Make outgoing calls from the cell phone using low-cost IP-based services.

The service, says TalkPlus CEO Jeff Black, is set to roll out in beta form in early November, in association with (you guessed it) an unnamed “top-tier dating site” for $9.95 a month.

Here’s how it will work: You sign up with the service and get a virtual telephone number, which becomes an alias for your regular cell phone number. When someone calls that number, your cell phone rings.

If you want to call someone from your cell phone and have your TalkPlus number show up as the caller-ID on the recipient’s phone, you use a tiny TalkPlus application to make the call.

The TalkPlus app works with any WAP-enabled or Java-based cell phone. Symbian, Treo, Windows CE and support for others will be added in early 2007, said Black.

Authentication to prevent incoming call highjacking is an important part of the TalkPlus offering.

“An alias number, whether its virtual or one you already own, is a number you have authority to use,” said Black. “Let’s say I want to add my home phone number as an alias. I’m assigned a special authentication five digit pass code. My home phone rings and when I pick it up, I enter the pass code. The process is repeated three times at different times over the first month.”

While it’s relatively easy to mimic some of TalkPlus’ capability today simply by having calls forwarded to your cell phone, the concept of disposable virtual numbers and the ability to use such a number as the caller identifier are both unique.

But equally exciting is that TalkPlus, as Black said, will make it possible in a future release to easily make expensive overseas calls on your cell phone using cheap VoIP minutes. Yes, TalkPlus is stealing a page from the “Voice 1.0” playbook by becoming a service provider.

“When you dial a number using our application, our server figures out where you are,” said Black. “So, say you are in the Silicon Valley and you call London. The server grabs a temporary phone number invisibly in about 1.5 seconds in the Silicon Valley. Your phone dials that number and the server connects you to London at about three cents a minute.”

Black added that TalkPlus will also allow calls made using SIP URI dialing, which, when combined with a corporate PBX (or even open source offerings such as Asterisk), permit the user to terminate calls using any IP-based calling service.

When fully rolled out, TalkPlus promises to trigger a significant change in the way we use our cell phone. In the meantime, you’ll be able to use it for worry-free date arrangements, at least until someone figures out how to market the service’s true power.