PhoneGnome Gives Best of Both TeleWorlds

Little blue box adds VoIP capability to PSTN service and provides lots of cool, VoIP-ish features.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Jul 25, 2005
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Probably the most surprising thing about the newly released PhoneGnome from TelEvolution is that, unlike most things telephonic, it is a product, not a service. You pay for it once, you own it, you use it. End of story.

Well, there's more to the story, of course.

PhoneGnome is the brainchild of David Beckemeyer, founder of TelEvolution and a former CTO of Earthlink—"a hard-core Internet guy," as Dave puts it. It is a small appliance into which you plug a broadband Internet connection, a PSTN connection and an analog phone. It then spends a short time figuring out were it is, and other aspects of its local environment, and without further configuration, is available to route calls either over the Internet, or via the PSTN.

As with some other popular VoIP products, "on-network" calls between PhoneGnome owners are free, regardless of location. But unlike other products, any call to or from another SIP-based phone is also free. For other calls, they are either automatically routed to the PSTN or, if you have signed on to a VoIP provider (and PhoneGnome currently offers three affiliated candidates), they go over the Internet.

This is in contrast to PSTN replacement services, of which Vonage is the most prominent example. Beckemeyer pointed out several down sides to getting rid of your landline, including "no phone service in power or Internet service outages, and less reliable 9-1-1 service. With PhoneGnome, 9-1-1 calls go through the PSTN as always."

One obvious question is How does the PhoneGnome know how to route the call? The following is an approximation of what Beckemeyer told EnterpriseVoIPplanet: "We have some fairly complex patent pending technology involving a unique collaboration model. The box does some of the work. It pretends to be the CO switch you used to connect to, for example, but it can also get help from external servers—do lookups dynamically," he said.

In any case, if the call can be made for free, it will be. Other calls go to the PSTN or the VoIP provider's gateway.

However, according to Beckemeyer, "we turn every call into VoIP, even if it's only for a quarter of an inch through the box." This allows the PhoneGnome to offer a number of features "you can't get from your local phone company," in Beckemeyer's words. One of these is voice-mail to email. Unanswered incoming calls are digitally recorded and sent to your email inbox. "A lot of people are going to buy this just for the voice-mail to email," Beckemeyer said, "and maybe not even use the Internet calling."

Another feature that many will appreciate is a call screening function that will snag telemarketing calls, mimic a disconnected number, and warn telemarketers to remove your name from their lists. You can also maintain an online personal phone directory, accessed via computer and web browser, with click-to-call dialing capability. The features are all included in the purchase price, which is currently $119 ordered from the PhoneGnome website.

As mentioned, PhoneGnome has affiliations with three global IP service providers, and, Beckemeyer believes, this list will expand going forward. "This is the perfect product for these IPSPs," he said. "It gets them out of the local number business—and the local call business—and lets them do what the know how to do: terminate calls to the PSTN."

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