Hosted PBX: As Easy As It Gets?

Officially launched yesterday at DEMO, Toktumi is a new business phone service that may remind you in many ways of Skype. For example, you can download and install it for free, and on-network calls—calls among registered Toktumi users—are free, regardless of the users’ physical locations.

We had an opportunity to meet founder and CEO, Peter Sisson before DEMO, and he would hasten to point out that the similarities to Skype are pretty superficial—which, in fact, he did.

But before we sort out all the differences, here’s a rundown of Toktumi’s basic PBX features:

  • a real phone number (included, for free)
  • auto attendant
  • voicemail
  • multiparty conferencing
  • call transferring and forwarding
  • speed dialing

The list could be longer, but it reflects a fundamental principle guiding Sisson’s design of the product: Keep things simple and predictable.

“The problem we’re trying to solve is that very small businesses want big business presence,” Sisson told Enterprise—”they want to look professional. The existing solutions tend to be expensive and complicated.

“That’s what I was really trying to do, just make it simple, easy—following the 80/20 rule We started from ‘What are the core features that a typical small business—micro-enterprise—is looking for?’ So it doesn’t have ACD [automated call distribution] or music on hold or all these extra things.”

Add to the simple, but robust, feature set the ease of getting hold of Toktumi and the ease of setting it up and trying it out—all of which takes place before payment of any kind, and you have a pretty compelling offering.

During my briefing with Sisson, I downloaded the software, ran the setup wizard, was assigned in incoming phone number (DID) and had dialtone well within the parameters of the company’s marketing slogan: “Business phone service in 5 minutes.”

“There’s no phone call,” Sisson emphasized; “you don’t have to talk to a sales rep; you don’t have to give them your credit card number. All on your own you can decide for yourself and no one’s going to harass you.

“You can actually set up an entire office and place calls to each other and receive calls, to see how you like it before you pay a penny,” he went on. “That notion of sampling and trialing has been a barrier to customer acquisition for lots of providers. This makes it a no-brainer—to try it up front.”

So, how many pennies will Toktumi set you back, should you decide to become a paying customer? Pricing is $12.95 per month per number plus 2 cents per minute for outbound calling “to most phones, worldwide.” That is, to normal phones in the parts of the world you’re most likely to be calling—not mobile phones where termination costs are high, not to remote corners of the globe—just most places you’d want to reach. This pricing, according to Sisson, is in keeping with the basic principle of keeping things simple and predictable.

When you do become a paying customer, you get to pick the area code for your DID, and conference calling, forwarding and call transfer, can be to/with any phone, on- or off- network (functions that work only on-network with the free version). And you get access to round-the-clock customer service.

Speaking of “any phone,” another feature of Toktumi that fits in with the product’s ‘keep it simple’ design is the fact that you can use, er, any phone. Sisson feels that the need either to acquire an IP phone or to use the PC based softphone functionality is likely to turn off a significant proportion of potential users—another barrier to adoption. Accordingly, the company offers a $29.95adapter that works with standard telephones, including cordless ones.

So, we’ve already touched on several of the ways that Toktumi differs from Skype: It has business-grade features and reliability (the functionality resides in the network, not your PC, so power outages or turning off the computer don’t shut down the service). You get a real phone number (rather than a network ID) which simplifies dialing and makes your system accessible from any phone, and the service works with the phone you already have. And it is designed for and targeted to business users, not consumers.

To round out the picture, I should mention that Toktumi is built on the well established GIPS (Global IP Solutions) technology platform that accounts for the clear, three-dimensional sound quality of Skype at its best. But the GIPS platform now also includes reliable firewall traversal, so the system will work anywhere. (Those of you who have tried other Web-based phone apps from behind a corporate firewall will appreciate this.) It’s another key element in the bullet-proof simplicity of product design.

And no description of Toktumi would be complete without a mention of the ingenious dialing feature that really points the way to the future of telephony. They call it Search Dialing. While you can punch in phone numbers to call out—as well as setting up Speed Dials—you can also dial by typing a name or other search term. Toktumi will scan your Outlook contacts and/or use Google Search to reference the Web.

So, calling Sally now just means typing “Sally.” Locating a local pizza parlor means typing “pizza.” The application knows where you are located and returns whatever choices exist in your area. Frequently called numbers appear almost instantaneously. Necessary? No, probably not. Fun and convenient? We thought so.

So if you’re starting a micro-enterprise or already have a small or SOHO business (Toktumi’s core target customer base)—or even if you have a larger business and would like to upgrade your communications image—give Toktumi a try. It will cost you nothing and might be just what you’re looking for.

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