Tuesday, August 30, 2005

PhoneGnome - Funny Name, Cool Product

Had a briefing today with David Beckemeyer, Founder and CEO of TelEvolution, and learned about this really neat product for residential VoIP. I don't normally talk about specific products, but this one really caught my eye as something different that is really designed with the end user in mind. David was the co-founder of EarthLink, and I'd say that if he thinks this is a good idea, it probably is.

This photo isn't very big, but it looks like a typical ATA.


While it looks like an ATA, and functions like an ATA, PhoneGnome is really all about the end user - not the service provider. First, it supports SIP, and provides free telephony between any two endpoints using the device. So, it's got that peer-to-peer feel, and for that reason, PhoneGnome is often sold in pairs - one for each party. Sort of like broadband walkie-talkies. This is totally independent of your service provider - all you need is a broadband connection. You just connect PhoneGnome between your router and regular phone, and you make the call just like you normally would. That's real simple - don't have to worry about extra digits, or any web interfaces.

Another thing that's cool is how you can subscribe to any Internet based LD calling plan in the world, and PhoneGnome will automatically pick that up when you make LD calls to PSTN endpoints. So, if I make a lot of calls from Toronto to Tokyo, and really like an LD plan from a provider in Tokyo, I can sign on to their service, and dial the number just like I normally would with POTS. So, again, no extra digits to dial - just use your phone as you always have - no big behavior changes here.

There are other neat features as well, including free voice mail to email, and telemarketer blocking. No doubt, others are in the pipeline as TelEvolution seeks to turn this into a must-have product for those who want a simple, POTS-like VoIP experience.

It's not fancy, and it's not web based, and it's just about cheap voice. But that's what the market wants, and the best part is you don't have to subscribe to a broadband voice service to get the benefit of VoIP. I suspect that many, if not most subscribers to these services - Vonage, Lingo, CallVantage, etc. - are NOT replacing their landlines, for a variety of reasons. As such, they're not decreasing their telecom spend at all - unless they are heavy LD users - i.e. spending $30 or more a month. With PhoneGnome, you don't have to subscribe to any such service. Just keep your basic POTS line and DSL, and dial away. Signing on to an Internet LD plan will be way cheaper than a Vonage-type service, plus you get all the upside of the reliability that comes with POTS. No worries about 911 or losing service when the lights go out. What's not to like?

Sure, this isn't for everybody, but I think the thinking behind PhoneGnome reflects the essence and spirit of what the IP revolution is all about - empowering the end user to control their communications experience. I'm not crazy about the name, but it sure lets you have it your way. David may not make many friends in the broadband operator community,and the RBOCs may even embrace him as the savior of their wireline business. It's early yet, but anything is possible in this market, that's for sure.

PhoneGnome is not widely available yet - it retails at Staples, but only in Southern California so far. However, anyone can buy it online, either at their own website, or on Voxilla. These online channels are another example to me about why this product really reflects the spirit of IP - just order it and use it - doesn't matter who you use, as long as you have broadband.

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