PhoneGnome Shows Its Softer Side

An unusual approach to residential/personal VoIP—announced last summer—is ready to show the world just how different it really is.

In July 2005, we reported on PhoneGnome, first offering from Danville, Calif.-based startup TelEvolution. It is an appliance—a one-time purchase—that turns all calls into VoIP and uses SIP signaling to connect to other SIP devices, anywhere on the globe, for free. The company has lined up several economical VoIP service provider plans to handle non-SIP calls that have to traverse the PSTN.

Last week, TelEvolution announced the first major add-on to the PhoneGnome system, a virtual extension called SoftGnome. Unlike PhoneGnome, SoftGnome is a service, albeit at $4.95 per month or $49.95 per year, an inexpensive service.

In essence, it uses the SIP implementation in the PhoneGnome system to ring a SIP device—soft client on a PC, PDA, SIP phone, Wi-Fi phone, etc.—simultaneously with your home phone, wherever you are connected to the Internet. Similarly, it lets you place calls remotely, and they appear—to the call recipient—as coming from your home phone.

“It’s sort of like a cordless phone in the house, but it can go anywhere the Internet can go,” TelEvolution CEO David Beckemeyer told” This is particularly handy in hotels, and in Starbucks,” he continued. “If you’re staying at a friend’s, take a Wi-Fi phone with you and you have your own line the whole time you’re there.”

Furthermore, “I can use my normal landline as though I’m home, even though I may be hundreds of miles away,” Beckemeyer continued. “If I’m calling my son’s school, for example, they get the normal caller ID.”

Unlike common analog telephone adapters (ATAs), which it superficially resembles, this heavily engineered system is like an object-oriented programming language, according to Beckemeyer. “Our system puts those building blocks together in different ways to get different results,” he said.

“When you’ve got SoftGnome and you’ve activated it,” Beckemeyer explains, “PhoneGnome takes the call on POTS, turns it into SIP, and says ‘Oh, this person has SoftGnome, so we’ll send signaling for this call at the same time we ring the local phone. We will also ring the SoftGnome that’s out there somewhere in the universe, over the Internet.'”

The larger point, according to Beckemeyer, is that the PhoneGnome architecture makes the system far more flexible and adaptable than conventional residential phone systems. “We make every call a VoIP call,” he told VoIPplanet. “We VoIP enable your old POTS line so advanced VoIP features actually apply to it.” Voicemail delivered via e-mail—an integral feature of the original PhoneGnome—is one example. SoftGnome is another.

Beckemeyer made it clear, without divulging details, that there are more innovations to come. TelEvolution is in talks with a number of potential partners—in various areas, he said. One vector that Beckemeyer was willing to discuss, in broad outlines anyway, is the development of peering arrangements with other open, interoperable, SIP-based VoIP systems, so customers will have access to free calling, not just between PhoneGnomes, but among a widening pool of providers.

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