7.4. Broadband Enhancements to Traditional Telephone Services
Bits are bits, as we've learned. Drilling down a bit more, broadband phone companies can grab the bits that constitute telephone calls, especially the bits at the start of the message detailing the phone number to receive the call and the number (or Internet address) of the caller. Clever people have determined how to watch for calls, grab certain ones, and add value to them.
Phone calls become software, software switches control where data streams (including phone calls) go, and Internet speeds mean a call can be grabbed, rerouted to a special server, and then delivered without degrading the voice quality. A new age of telephone services are developing, and even traditional telephone users benefit.
CallWave, Inc., (www.callwave.com) precedes the wave of new telephone applications. They have two interesting products, both of which use Internet Telephony in a new way.
Their first product, Internet Answering Machine, uses Internet Telephony to watch your line and grab any call that comes in when your computer is online. They grab the Caller ID information and put that onscreen so you can see whether you want to take that call.
You can listen to the caller leaving a voicemail message and click a button on the onscreen application to talk to that person using a softphone installed as part of the CallWave application. If you prefer, you can redirect that call to your cell phone.
Eight-hundred thousand users feel the $3.95 per month for CallWave offers enough benefits that they don't need a second phone line. Four dollars versus a minimum of $20 for a second line? That does make sense.
Their second product, which they call a pair of products, works with your cell phone. They call them Mobile Call Screening and Mobile Call Transfer.
Mobile Call Screening adds a similar type of call handling to cell phones that CallWave adds to home computers. Using your cell phone, you can see the Caller ID information and decide whether you wish to take the call. If so, press a button and talk. If not, let the caller leave a voicemail message.
If the voicemail sounds interesting, you can pick up that call. Yes, this works just the way your home answering machine works. Screen your calls and pick them up if you want. Cell phones have voicemail, but they don't let you listen to the call and pick it up.
The second part, Mobile Call Transfer, addresses the expense (high) and quality (low) of most cell phone conversations. Ever been sitting right beside your home telephone and get a call on your cell? People tend to call the number most convenient for them, not for you. So you sit and talk on your cell for umpteen dollars while your home phone sits there mocking you.
Using Mobile Call Transfer, you take the next step following the cell call screening. Get a call you want on your cell while you're near your home phone? Hit one button and have it transferred, immediately, to your home phone. The caller never knows you're listening to a better connection for less money than possible on the cell phone they called.
Price? Three dollars and ninety-five cents per month per line. How many times have you gone over your cell phone minutes and paid a premium? Not any more.
CallWave keeps their data servers in a hosting facility in southern Nevada. As mentioned, Internet Telephony works so quickly that a call from north Cleveland can be grabbed, routed to Nevada, and sent back to south Cleveland without any noticeable delay or voice problem. Meanwhile, the receiver in south Cleveland transferred the call from her cell to her landline to save money, and the guy begging for another date has no idea (about the call, but probably not about the date, either).
The CallWave people are nice, and their technical expertise should be put to work on behalf of the 911 issue if the broadband phone companies can't get their act together. Technology pioneered by CallWave and similar advances will drastically reshape the world of voice communications over the next few years.
A company and product still in beta testing (although they're taking money, so perhaps beta is a misnomer) may be the SIP-based answer to Skype for Business. Teleo (www.teleo.com) provides a softphone that integrates into Microsoft Office applications, making calls an easy one-click option. Millions and millions of people (about 600 million according to Microsoft) run Microsoft Office, including Outlook and Outlook Express. Teleo uses Microsoft programming interfaces to put menu items labeled "Call using Teleo" inside many Microsoft applications.
Bits are bits, right? Integrating with Microsoft applications makes Teleo more business-friendly than any other software phone available before. Get an email from a coworker and need to tell him how wrong he is? Click the name in the From: field in the email, and Teleo looks up the connected phone number from the Outlook database. Ring, refute, hang up.
Many mobile workers live with their laptop, but even they must put down the computer sometimes. During those times, tell the Teleo service to forward all calls to your laptop number to your cell phone.
Yes, your laptop has a phone number, just as it does with the Vonage softphone and the other SIP-based providers such as SIPphone and FreeWorld Dialup. Plugged into your company network in the office? The Teleo service finds your laptop. Plugged into the wireless network waiting at the airport? The Teleo service finds your laptop. Sneak away to the coffee shop to read your favorite comics (www.comics.com) so the people in the surrounding cubicles won't hear you laugh? The Teleo service finds your laptop.
More business friendly, Teleo allows companies to private-label their product. Since many companies have thousands of mobile or remote workers relying heavily on their laptops, that's an attractive offer. The end-to-end encryption provided by Teleo, similar to the encryption with Skype, makes an even stronger sales pitch for some industries and paranoid managers.
Told you bits are bits, and Internet Telephony will turn voice streams into data managed just like any other stream. So pay the $2.95 or $4.95 per month depending on minutes for Teleo and have your cell phone and laptop nag you wherever you are.
Is this really progress? Yes, if you remember to turn off Teleo and your cell phone and let people talk to voicemail when you're laughing in the coffee shop.