Last week, SIPphone announced Area775, a new VoIP service which allows calls to a single U.S. telephone number to ring both to a user's computer and to their landline or mobile phone. Once the call is picked up, it can be transferred back and forth between the user's computer, landline and mobile phone without interruption. Voicemail messages can also be screened as they're being left, allowing the recipient to choose whether or not to pick up the call at any point.
SIPphone President Jason Droege says the aim is to make it as easy as possible for consumers to use VoIP services alongside traditional telephony. "One of the goals of the company is to blur the lines between the voice over IP world, the mobile world and the PSTN world," he says. "As a result, we wanted to offer a product that sat on top of all of those thingsand that's what Area775 does."
Area775 adds new features to SIPphone's Gizmo Project VoIP service, starting with a free U.S. telephone number. The service was designed in cooperation with CallWave, which operates as a CLEC in Nevadaso numbers in the 775 (Reno, Nevada) area code are available for free, though users can pay a monthly fee to get a local area code instead.
Once the service is set up, any call that's made to the assigned number rings both on the user's computer (through Gizmo Project) and on either their mobile phone or landlinewhichever they prefer. "It makes the element of voice over IP less important than the elements that are important to the consumer, which are call management, call screening, access to voicemailthose types of things," Droege says.
The service is targeted at both consumers and small businesses, though Droege says he expects the early adopters to be mobile professionalsfor example, a real estate agent who needs to be able to transfer a call from her desktop to her mobile phone when she leaves to meet a client, or transfer a call back to her desktop when she returns from showing a house. And in either case, she's always reachable at one number.
Three levels of service are available: For free, you can get a number in the 775 area code that rings both to your computer and to your other designated device (landline or mobile phone)but if you pick up the call on that second device, there's a $2.00 fee per call. For $3.95 per month, you can get a number in a local area code, with no additional fee per calland for $7.95 a month, fax capability is added to the service, along with toll-free voicemail access.
While the free option is intended largely to draw in new customers and allow them to try out the service, Droege says a user could also set it up without the dual ringing capability enabled, simply to have free VoIP with a U.S. phone number. "You get a free 775 number, and you can just ring Gizmo Project with that," he says. "It can be your free phone number that people around the world can call you on, and you pay nothing for it."
Ultimately, Droege says, Area775 is about helping SIPphone stand out in an increasingly crowded VoIP marketplace. "What we've focused on is offering services that nobody else has," he says. "This is a service that really exploits the flexibility that voice over IP offers, and that you can't get in the PSTN world. This is a step beyond the 'It's free to call if I call over the Internet' type of services."
Or, as SIPphone CEO Michael Robertson writes on his blog, "We're moving to a new era of VoIP. The first wave was all about free or cheaper calling. But since voice calls are just another form of data traveling along the net, eventually all calls will be free just as all e-mail messages or IM messages are free. The long-term impact of VoIP is shifting power towards consumers so you have more control over your calling environment."