First VoIP plundered the PTSN subscriber base, sending the baby Bells' profit margin into a tailspin. Now VoIP applications have tunneled into every communications technology, bringing VoIP to millions of potential users (billions globally) from every available platform. Today, seasoned startups have staked their success on applications designed to bring VoIP to end-users through blogs and Web sites, cell phones and wifi . Some of these platforms have nearly a half dozen companies fighting for superiority, while others have their market cornered.
Companies like Jajah, iSkoot and YapOn are offering consumer VoIP applications to the 2.14 billion cell phone users around the world, while other VoIP applications have begun to fundamentally change the way we use the Internet. New click-to-call features are bringing voice into seamless integration with blogs and sites - giving such diverse industries as tech support and dating services new avenues for connecting with users.
Here are the top 10 ways to make VoIP even better, including the free and low-cost apps that make it possible:
WebEx, founded in 1996, has dominated Web conferencing by leveraging its pre-established position as a videoconferencing provider while capitalizing on rapid innovations into web-based business solutions.
But now a plucky startup founded in 2003 , Yugma, is hitting WebEx where it hurts. While WebEx has grown fat selling its Web conferencing services for $75 per month per host, Yugma has guaranteed that its basic services will be free, forever.
With Yugma you can invite up to 10 other people to simultaneously view documents and applications of any format; you can host an unlimited number of sessions (one session at a time) and you can collaborate on both PCs and Macs at the same time on any Web browser (including Safari), any application, and almost any operating platform (Linux coming soon) - with the flexibility to launch "on the fly."
It's easy to install, easy to use, highly reliable and platform independent. Does WebEx have a widget its paying clients can post on their product sites, blogs, intranet or student collaboration sites? No. Does Yugma? Of course, and for free. Does WebEx support VoIP technology? Only for its public relation conference calls when it announces the acquisition of a smaller company.
Does Yugma work with VoIP? Yugma is specifically designed to seamlessly interact with all VoIP providers globally.
Call it microblogging or text blasting - Twitter allows you to do it for free. From your phone, an IM client or from Twitter's Web site, you can send a text message to multiple friends' phones simultaneously or straight to your MySpace page. The only catch: Twitter wants you to keep it short - posts are limited to 140 characters, and the topic is always, "What are you doing?"
All your recent twitters are then saved on your profile page along with links to your friends' Twitter pages, a thumbnail photo and a short bio. Plus, you can search Twitter's 100,000 members to see what they are doing.
Gizmo Call gives users two options that will make unlimited worldwide calling accessible and cost efficient. Any wifi-routed call to another Gizmo Project user is free, with no time limits or fees, and calls to landlines and cell phones start at 2 cents per minute.
Gizmo has announced an official partnership with Nokia, whose n80i is the ultimate next generation telephone - a mobile that smoothly transitions from cell technology to wifi. But the n80i still costs nearly $500, so this plan isn't for someone looking to lower their total voice costs. To buy tomorrow's phone today, it's going to cost some of the money you saved yesterday.
But look on the bright side, by buying into the Gizmo-Nokia partnership, you'll be a year ahead of mainstream phone culture. If your personal image depends on having the next best thing, you better get an n80i with Gizmo before your clients do.
Truphone offers a VoIP-over-WiFi service that currently works on four Nokia cell phone models in the U.S. and U.K., including the Nokia n80i.
Installation on these phones is simple: Sign-up, pick your phone model and latest OS version, and enter your phone number. Truphone sends a text message to your phone that guides you through the simple installation process. Then you select your wifi settings. Making calls is simple: Click on the phone number you wish to dial, then choose from a cellular or a VoIP connection.
Not only is Truphone available in a wider selection of Nokia phones, its call quality also surpasses Gizmo, which has trouble with its packets when connected at a low bandwidth. Additionally, the U.K.-based Truphone understands international calling from mobiles better than Gizmo, giving Truphone an advantage in the global market.
Living and shopping in an online community has until now been a solitary and silent experience, with 90 percent of the transactions occurring through email, blog posts or other keyboard functions. Sure, Skype and webcams have stimulated our other senses, but audio/visual elements have until now been in the HOV lane of the information superhighway. The next generation of multimedia convergence is upon us, and it's unifying voice with Web surfing. Long after Google's click-to-call went belly-up, several new services are filling the void.
Jaxtr offers a new widget designed for blogs or e-commerce sites allow users to contact you by phone without giving your phone number away to the entire Internet. In over 30 countries in four continents, Jaxtr is catching on, and it's still only in beta!
Direct CallBack is a direct competitor of Jaxtr. DCB allows a visitor of your Web page to call directly to your cell phone. All you need is a phone that accepts text messages; you don't even need a computer.
Or, if you want visitors to leave their number so you can call them back at your convenience, you can use the CallWidget, which allows anyone to call you for free without them having to register. Designed for e-commerce site owners, CallWidget lets customers get in touch by phone for free, without you having to take a phone call in the middle of the night.
Jangl has created a feature-rich Jaxtr competitor, with all the blogging widget flexibility of Jaxtr plus additional features like voicemail integration and a real-time accept/decline feature.
Online, you can post a Jangl Widget on your online profile, blog or personal page. When readers see your widget, they can simply enter their own phone number, click Go, and instantly get a Jangl phone number to call you. Your number and their number are both safe. This is a great way to connect when dating, expand your friends list, talk with your blog readers or sell products online.
Offline, you can give out your Jangl ID just like you would your regular phone number - put it on a business card or a napkin. When site visitors call the first time, they'll be asked to leave a short message introducing themselves. When you get a Jangl call, you'll hear the caller's introduction and then have the ability to accept or reject it in real time. Jangl works on your mobile, home, work or VoIP phone.
Several companies are competing over the same cheap telephony turf - using VoIP plumbing to redirect cell phones that allow callers to make long distance and international calls for next to nothing. Chief among them is Jajah.
Jajah made a name for itself when it released a Web-based callback system, a sort of long-distance rate run-around. Type in your number and the number you want to call, and Jajah calls you both, connecting the call via VoIP to your existing phone line, which now includes cell phones from any global carrier and Apple's upcoming iPhone.
RebTel, a Luxembourg company, is hot on Jajah's heels. With over 36 countries to call for free from the U.S., RebTel offers 10 international calls per month for free without any time restrictions. On the downside, the call procedure is trickier than Jajah's: The person receiving the call has to call back to the number RebTel transmits through the receiver's caller ID (also sending it as a text message). The receiver hangs up while the caller stays on the line. The receiver calls back the number sent by RebTel and the two talkers are connected.
A little too complicated to become the next Skype, but with the right marketing plan, a company with a name like RebTel could do well in certain rebel-friendly markets like in the Southern U.S. or with "Star Wars" fans.
Hullo combines Jajah-style VoIP calling from cell and landlines with the PC-to-phone capabilities of Skype. Trying to separate itself from the field, Hullo offers a feature-rich environment that powers one of the most flexible calling services ever offered. Currently, Hullo is not accepting new users because its beta test period has ended. So while the design team is working out the kinks, here are some of Hullo's features that you can look forward to when it relaunches:
- Hullo Chat: Turn a regular phone call into a conference call, during the call, just by clicking on your buddy list.
- Hullo Handoff: Move a call from your cell phone to your desk phone when you get into the office, without disconnecting the call.
- Hullo Blast (coming soon): Send a voicemail to everyone at once by selecting them from your buddy list.
Talkster is the only service that lets you talk to your Instant Messenger buddies on MSN, Google Talk and Gizmo Project - without the need for any software on your phone or PC, special devices, networks or data plans from your carrier. A mobile phone with a browser will work, even a phone without a data plan can work if you set the call up online with a PC.
There are only two steps to make a call to your buddies or any telephone number using Talkster. First, choose your friend from a buddy list or a telephone number for one of your contacts. Second, Talkster triggers your phone to call in to one of its local access gateways, or calls you back on your phone. Once your call is connected over the standard cellular voice network to the gateway, your contact's phone or instant messenger client will ring on the other end and you are talking - just like you would in a regular phone call.
Unlike Jajah and its clones, fring brings VoIP to your cell phone in totally different way - harnessing your mobile data network. fring allows users to make free mobile calls, send instant messages to other fring users, and communicate with PC-based VoIP applications such as Skype and Google Talk.
But "free" is a loaded term with this service. It's free once you pay your mobile carrier's data network plan. If you're paying by the kilobyte, fring is far from free. The fring Web site is a basic, text-only page with entry windows for your phone number and email address. You sign up, and download fring onto your phone like a ringtone.
Unlike Jajah and its brood that use your mobile calling minutes, or fring, powered by your provider's data network plan, YapOn targets another blade in your Swiss Army telephone: SMS text messaging technology.
With its ‘Text to Talk' feature, YapOn can provide mobile subscribers across the globe, regardless of carrier, the ability to access the most competitive long-distance rates directly from their mobile device.
Step 1. Register at YapOn's Web site.
Step 2. Text YapOn to the number you want to call.
Step 3. YapOn calls you back and connects you, charging a low rate plus a 30-day free
trial. Great for cheap international calling with your mobile phone.
YapOn also offers ‘Quick Connect'', which enables YapOn subscribers to initiate long-distance calls (landline and mobile) via YapOn's web interface.
Run by two Israeli brothers from their Cambridge, Mass., headquarters, iSkoot enables users to make unlimited, superior quality calls via their cell phones' voice network to other Skype users, or through SkypeOut to nearly any phone number on the planet.
In January 2007, Skype confirmed that iSkoot met its usability and quality standards, making iSkoot the first and only third-party mobile client to be Skype-certified. Skype's approval of iSkoot has left competitors, like Mobivox, out in the cold. Having dominated the Skype-to-cell market, iSkoot is venturing into other social-networking sites, seeking to unite cell phone consumers and computer users under a single product. As iSkoot Founder and CEO Jacob Guedalia said, "We would like iSkoot to be known as the company that brought Internet calling to all mobile phones."
Using VoIP architecture, GrandCentral allows you to control which of your phone numbers ring when you get a call, plus it provides you with feature-rich options that will re-invent the role of telecommunications at the office.
When a call comes in, the GrandCentral interface will first show who's calling. Then, you can accept the call or send it to voicemail, like any other phone system - or, you can utilize GrandCentral's unqiue features. You could accept the call while recording it. Or, using GrandCentral's trademarked ListenIn feature, you can listen in real time as your caller leaves a voicemail with the ability to take the call at any time. It provides unrivaled flexibility with no hardware to buy.
GrandCentral also allows you to consolidate your voicemail in a Web interface, which lets you to organize your contacts into groups and set up automatic behaviors and filters for each incoming phone number. GrandCentral is not yet available outside the U.S. or even in every area code. But it's growing, currently in all but 14 of the lower 48 states.
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