New VoIP Provider�Phone.com�Launches

Firm offers not one but two products: one for business, one for residential customers.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Dec 11, 2007
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The principals of Boston, Mass.-based Phone.com—which officially "commences operations" today—are very pleased with their company's name. Mike Mann, company co-founder and high-tech venture capitalist observed, "Our vision is for individuals to recognize Phone.com as 'the New Phone.Company."

And, indeed, like the old phone company, Phone.com is courting both business and residential customers. But that's pretty much where the resemblance ends.

Phone.com is built around packet-switched, not circuit-switched technology, and it incorporates a great deal of the rich functionality that until fairly recently was the purview of expensive enterprise PBX-based VoIP systems.

Service, both business and residential, is economical by any standard. We'll get to service plan details below, but Phone.com offers an added economical alternative to the normal monthly charge: Pay one lump annual fee and save even more (about $5 per month for business service, $2 per month for residential).

Home Phone, the residential offering, is an all-IP, line-replacement service. Phone.com supplies a free ATA (analog telephone adapter) when you sign up, and calls come and go via your broadband IP connection.

One of the cool things about ATA-based residential service is that you can take your adapter with you when you travel, and make Phone.com calls within your service plan wherever you have access to a broadband connection.

You can have your current phone number ported to Phone.com (at a cost of $25) or get a new DID (direct inward dialing) number from the company.

Features for Home Phone are quite, well, full-featured. They include (at no extra cost), voicemail, call forwarding, three-way calling, "call return," ID blocking, and do-not-disturb. To get effective 911 dialing, you simply register your number and location when you sign up.

Since economy is probably the motivating factor for most people looking to switch phone services, Phone.com is an attractive alternative to the most popular VoIP service—Vonage.

You can get into the game for $9.88 a month, which plan includes 200 minutes of calling within North America. The all-you-can-eat plan is $18.88 per month, or $202.56 per year (the equivalent of $16.88 monthly). Vonage is $24.99 per month, period.

International calling rates are typically half those charged by Vonage—or less.

Virtual Office, the business offering, is a hosted PBX service. Oddly (in a way) it uses the PSTN as the "final mile." That is, you'll need to maintain a relationship with your local phone provider to use Virtual Office.

The thinking here, according to co-founder Ari Rabban, is that small businesses are reluctant to invest in equipment. Since everybody has a standard phone, VO, just terminates to the PSTN locally, and business operators don’t have to worry about IP phones—although fully IP-based service will be an option some time in 2008.

As with Home Phone, Virtual Office customers get a "universal number," a brand new DID (although the porting option exists here as well). As the company's website promo language puts it: "One number to reach all locations and staff." Numbers can be local or remote (that is, local to some other location), and all but the most basic plan include multiple numbers (two or three, depending on the plan). Additional numbers are available at extra cost. Toll-free, vanity, and toll-free vanity numbers are available.

Also as with Home Phone, Virtual Office plans are based on usage, with 300-, 600-, 1,000- and 2,500-minute bundles standard. (Additional minutes are billed at slightly under 5 cents each for the more modest plans, and under 4 cents for the more generous plans.)

Pricing for the four plans, based on annual payment, are $9.88, $19.88, $34.88, and $69.88. If you prefer to pay monthly, it'll cost you and extra $5 per.

While VO doesn't offer unlimited extensions (as do some competing services), you get plenty of them—10, 15, 20, or 50, depending on the plan. (See plan details here.)

Also on the above web page is a complete listing of the PBX functions and features that are part and parcel of VO. Some of the more interesting and unusual include SMS notification of voicemail, a dial-by-name directory, music on hold, and the ability for customers to record and upload their own custom greetings and other messages.

Customers get access to a management portal where setups, changes, and other ongoing maintenance tasks are carried out. Moreover, "We support you with a U.S.-based team that will guide you step by step," Rabban told VoIPplanet.com.

Indeed, like its name, Phone.com is very proud of its support organization. "We're really working on having an intelligent customer support service team—all U.S.-based and 24/7, Rabban said. Phone.com support is delivered via phone, e-mail, or text chat. "There's no down-time for our support operation," he emphasized.

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