We're not sure why, but when startup netTALK launched its consumer-oriented VoIP product in July of this year, Enterprise VoIPplanet.com missed the event. An announcement, last month, that the company's common stock was being approved for public trading on the OTC Bulletin Board (symbol NTLK) also slipped past us.
But yesterday's announcement of $1.1 million in private investor funding (via Midtown Partners & Co., LLC of Tampa, Florida) did catch our eye. (Who raised $1.1 million to expand what VoIP service???)
NetTalk, Inc. is a Florida-based company whose flagship product, the TK6000, is the newest in the recent evolution of VoIP device/service combinations designed to drive a wedge between consumers and their local incumbent phone providers.
The TK6000 is a portable device, about the size of a deck of playing cards, that connects to a broadband Internet link and a standard (non-IP) telephone, allowing the owner/user to place free calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.
Okay, what's the hitch?
Well, the device sells for $99.
Oh, right. And, what's the ongoing fee structure?
Um, there isn't any. Oh, you can use netTALK for overseas calling, at (undoubtedly) very low rates (we didn't check), but for calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, it remains free. And as with most VoIP services, calls to other members (subscribers, etc.) are free regardless of geographical location.
Readers familiar with the magicJack VoIP service (which we reviewed here) will note some resemblance: low-cost, portable device that works with traditional telephones, almost free domestic VoIP service, etc.
But netTALK co-founder and chairman Anastasios Kyriakides, would no doubt hasten to point out the significant differences (as does a page on the company's brand new website): Use of the TK6000 does not require the use of a PC (as magicJack does), and with netTALK, U.S./Canadian service is totally freeas opposed to $19.95 per year with magicJack.
To be fair, the TK6000 does require the use of an AC power adaptor (which magicJack does not), although netTALK users can get around this by, in fact, using a computer via a USB cable (supplied) and some software (available for free download from the website, but currently identified as "unstable").
Whether users find the difference between a nominal $20 per year and 'free forever' to be a compelling one remains to be seen. In both cases, compared to traditional telephone service, it's definitely a brave new world.
Meanwhile, the amenities of a netTALK account appear attractive from the phone consumer's viewpoint. Part and parcel of membershipbeyond free N. American service) is a free DID (number portability not yet available), E911 service, call waiting, caller ID, directory assistance, call forwarding, three-way calling, personal management portal, and a number of support options. Conspicuously absent from the list of features mentioned on the website is voicemail. Don't know what's going on there, as that seems pretty basic these days.
At this stage of the game (less than three months after launch), the netTALK service and TK6000 device are available only direct from the company. For the foreseeable future, netTALK is offering to bill purchasers in four monthly installments of $24.95which should help diffuse whatever pain might be associated with acquiring unlimited free phone service forever for a total outlay of $100.