8x8, Inc. yesterday announced the launch of its Packet8 Softalk program. Packet8 subscribers can freely download the phone and use it to make voice or voice-and-video calls to other Packet8 customerswherever locatedfree of charge. That's the Softalk Basic plan.
There's also a Softalk Premium plan, that gets more interesting. (No disrespect to the Basic plan, but in this day of softphones everywhere, it's not that newsworthy.) With Premium, customers get a free DID (direct inward dialing) phone number, E911 support, 500 minutes of free PSTN connectivity, and a long list of telephony featuresall for $5.99 per month plus a one-time $9.99 activation fee.
The E911 support is truly unusual for a softphone service. Karen Hong, 8x8's director of product marketing explained to VoIPplanet.com: "According to FCC regulations, any device that has a phone number where you're able to make outbound calls and receive incoming calls must support E911. We are able to make that happen with our softphone." Essentially, the Packet8 network intercepts any 911 dialing and pushes it through to the PSTN.
8x8's immediate motivation for developing Softalk was to add momentum to their existing Freedom Unlimited VideoPhone service offering. Hong explained that whereas the hardware (terminal adaptor) necessary for the company's Freedom Unlimited voice-only plan is shipped to customers for free, the VideoPhone service requires the purchase of the Packet8 VideoPhone itself, with a price tag of $199. "And of course, you need to buy two," she pointed out. "So your initial investment is already $400 to do videophone service from us."
According to Hong, Softalk was in large part a response to customer demand. "A lot of our customers asked for it," she told VoIPplanet.com. And while introduction of the softphone cuts in half (or eliminates) the outlay to use Packet8 VideoPhone, there's a practical need served as well.
Here's the scenario: "The VideoPhone is a desktop unit; you can't really travel with it," Hong explained. "What you can do is buy one Video Phone and place it in your home. If dad or mom will be traveling, with Softalk loaded on their PC, they can call home and video-talk to anybody who's residing in the home."
The softphone itself, which should be familiar to many VoIPplanet readers, is CounterPath's eyeBeam 1.1. According to Karen Hong, 8x8 will be upgrading to eyeBeam 1.5 (see VoIPplanet coverage here) in a few weeks.
A partial list of telephony features that Softalk Premium will support includes, two lines, hold, call recording, call forwarding, do not disturb, six-way conferencing (audio/video), mute, call timer, advanced contact list/address book, and full call logging