“Portal” VoIP service provider PeerMe, Inc. recently announced the availability of an application programming interface (API) that allows developers to integrate the company’s click-to-talk voice over IP functionality into Web sites. The API, and all calls made using it, are free, both to the provider and the end user.
Tom Lasater started PeerMe in 2004 to promote peer-to-peer voice on the Internet, with an eye toward the mobile space. “All the while, I’ve been telling people about what’s going to happen when you have high speed access on your mobile phone,” he says. “Carriers lose control of what you do on your mobile phone when they offer you unlimited high speed Internet access.”
That started happening earlier this year, Lasater says, when Verizon and Sprint launched unlimited EVDO access plans. “And so we released PeerMe for Windows Mobile 5—you can download PeerMe onto your mobile phone and use it to call anyone anywhere in the world,” he says. “That all of a sudden makes the whole mobile experience much more interesting.”
The biggest story in the mobile business
Thanks to the speeds offered by EVDO, that can provide an interesting challenge for mobile operators. “I think unlimited high speed wireless Internet access is the biggest story in the mobile business,” Lasater says. “What it means is, I can be anywhere in any metropolitan area in the U.S. on my cell phone with PeerMe on it, and talk to anybody else anywhere in the world for a flat fee.”
And so, Lasater says, voice becomes free. “Verizon allows you to sign up for only their data plan, so you can just sign up for the flat EVDO fee, $50 a month, and basically use your phone as an Internet access and peer-to-peer voice device,” he says. “Sprint doesn’t allow you to do that, but Sprint’s cheapest voice plan is $25 a month, so if you add that to their $15 EVDO fee, it’s still only $40 a month for an unlimited plan.”
In many ways, as Lasater points out, it’s a new perspective on affordable mobile access. “In the past, if you wanted to save money, you would get the cheapest mobile phone and the cheapest plan,” he says. “Now, the best way to do it is to buy the most expensive phone—one of these new Windows Mobile 5 devices—and get a flat-rate, all-you-can-eat high speed Internet access plan—and that will actually save you money.”
That’s assuming, of course, that the call quality is good enough. “This probably isn’t a business tool at this point, because the quality of service is not there,” Lasater admits. “But for me to talk to any of my friends around the world, or even to most business associates around the world, it’s fine—because if it’s okay 99 percent of the time, since it’s free, they’ll accept a little bit of an issue with quality.”
The newly announced API, Lasater says, looks at VoIP from a different perspective: adding click-to-talk voice functionality to Web sites. “On craigslist right now, people just put up postings with their phone number,” he says. “But it might be kind of cool if craigslist integrated our API into their listings so that you could put a click-to-talk button in your ad.”
With the API integrated into the site, anyone who viewed an ad could immediately see whether or not the person posting it was online—and if they were, they could start a voice conversation with a single click. According to Lasater, it’s extremely straightforward—and worthwhile—to implement. “It adds a whole new level of functionality to anyone’s user base,” he says.
Lasater says one prototype for this kind of site, PeerMe Dating, was set up by college kids in India as a student project. “If you go on the site and you browse the profiles, there’s click-to-talk functionality, you can send an instant message—and all of this was done without any input from our tech team,” he says. “It’s just a demo of what anybody can do.”
It’s an exciting time, Lasater says, to be in this business. Despite obvious competition from larger players like Skype, PeerMe is managing to hold its own—a few weeks ago, the company launched the first peer-to-peer voice product available for the Motorola Q. “Yes Skype is there, and they’re an 800 pound gorilla, but the voice market worldwide is a trillion dollar market—and there’s room for everyone,” he says.