Thursday, July 20, 2006

Once Phone Calls Become Free - Then What?

The blogosphere has been quick to pick up on Andy Abramson's post about the latest from Michael Robertson's Gizmo Project.

Gizmo's All Calls Free offering went live today, and is yet another example of what happens when voice becomes a total commodity, and at this stage of the game isn't really much different than email - at least in Internet world, where voice is just another data application.

Michael Robertson is certainly an innovator and a disruptor, and his praises are not hard to come by, especially among the blogerati. A quick perusal of Andy's blog, Alec Saunders, Om Malik, and others - and you won't have to look far to learn all you want about what makes Gizmo special.

Basically, Gizmo works like Skype. It's peer-to-peer, and calls between Gizmo callers are free. The big difference is that Gizmo is SIP-based, whereas Skype's protocol is largely closed and proprietary. This has long been a big contention with Skype, as it cannot be easily integrated into the broader IM or VoIP world. Gizmo, on the other hand, feels they've built a better mousetrap since SIP can be far more broadly shared. In theory, this gives Gizmo the potential to be a universally used platform.

The only drawback is that Skype has the brand and the huge user base, while Gizmo is hardly known outside the IP world. Today's news is a step along the way to change that, as they're now offering free calling among Gizmo users to some 60 countries - on either a PC or any phone. So, they've one-upped Skype's free North America calling deal to a more global footprint. Of course you have to sign up with Gizmo to do this - just as you would with Skype or any other service.

So, on paper, it's a great deal - but the world has to know about it. Those in the know will be all over this, but the trick is getting everyone else on board.

A couple of years ago, Ed Cespedes, the CEO of Voiceglo, was presenting at an investor conference in NY. He was boldly proclaiming that with VoIP, voice will be a race to zero. That's always stuck with me (not that he was the first to say it, but his timing was very good), especially since Jeff Citron had already done his Vonage pitch earlier in the morning! Hah. Anyhow, I'm with Ed, and here we are - free voice.

So, now what? There are a million ways to answer that one for sure. All I can say is - good for Gizmo! - and I hope they get a gazillion people using it. I'm sure the telcos - as well as the VoIP pureplays trying to do the same thing, but charging $25 or so a month - won't be thrilled. It's just another curve ball in the ever-changing VoIP landscape.

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