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Friday, February 17, 2006

Gizmo Area 775 Launches a Nevda Broaside against Skype Estonia

You’ve got to hand it to Michael Robertson.  He certainly has a sense of humor.  Area775 is his new calling service for SIPPhone and Gizmo customers.  The press release hit the wire about an hour ago.  Sign up today, and you can have a free phone number (in area code 775, hence the name) and a host of nifty features so people can call you on your Gizmo or SIPPhone number. 
Michael dropped me an email last night, and in it he wrote:
Tomorrow we’re launching an innovative service called Area775. It’s the first service to give you one number that will reach you on your computer or your mobile phone. It can even transfer calls between the two locations (answer on your PC, click a button and you’re talking on your mobile or vice versa). There are loads of other features like call screening, SMS notification, etc. but the big picture is that this is the first VOIP service to combine the PC calling world with traditional phones making it all seamless. One number for both worlds.
Sounds good! There are three plans:
The free plan includes a free 775 area code number, dual ring on a PSTN (celllular or landline) and SIP phone, call screening (you can listen to callers leave voice mail messages, and interrupt if you want to take the call), call transfer (mid call, from one device to the other!), voice mail to email, personalized greetings and SMS notification.  The catch?  If you want to answer the call on your PSTN device it costs $2/call. 
The basic plan includes everything in the free plan, plus you can choose your own area code and answering calls on your PSTN line is included at no extra cost.  Basic is $3.95 per month.
The premium plan includes the basic plan features, plus a fax line, and toll free access to your voicemail.  It costs $7.95 per month. 
I think most people will find the basic plan the best choice.  When I compare this to the services I currently use:

  1. Vonage costs me $25/month, and doesn’t include the features that area code 775 includes.  Furthermore, they charge me extra for the softphone, and it has a separate phone number.  I’ve been planning to cancel it for some time.  This is the nail in the coffin.  Bye bye Vonage. 

  2. Packet8 costs me $25/month.  It includes a lot of good features, but has no softphone, no call screening, no call transfer.  Packet8 is getting cancelled too.

  3. Mint Telecom, which offers me cheap long distance rates to the US, just got eclipsed as well.  Again, I’ve been meaning to cancel this since SIPPhone started offering 1 cent long distance.  Today’s the day!
What it boils down to is more features for less money, and one number for all calls.  I think that’s what consumers want.  It’s certainly what I want.
This move is also a pretty fair broadside against Skype.  When you compare, Skype-In costs about the same at 30 euros per year. Skype doesn’t offer features like call screening and transfer. Skype will charge you standard Skype-Out per minute rates to answer the call on your PSTN line too. However, Skype is more tightly integrated with Outlook, and has more sophisticated call forwarding capabilities.  Overall, from a value and call quality perspective, I think Area775/Gizmo is ahead.
The negatives (and they seem to be few):
  1. No international phone numbers available.  Skype has these.

  2. No international credit card support.  Gizmo can take PayPal, so I am not sure why Area775 doesn’t.  I’ve written to Michael and Jason Droege (president of SIPPhone) and pointed this out.

  3. Some of the features require you to navigate to a CallWave website, who presumably is the partner SIPPhone is using for the service. 

  4. Early reports indicate that you may not be able to terminate your call on an international number.  This is a service that only a few frequent travellers would want, but it would be nice to have a US phone number that forwarded to Europe, for instance.
Area775 has a feel about it as if it was released a little early.  To me it looks as if the back end systems integration just isn’t finished yet.  Someone made the (probably correct) call that "we’ve got enough — let’s ship it!". The minor flaws I’ve pointed out won’t stop early adopters from jumping on board.  Jason and his team at SIPPhone have a pretty good track record of frequent new releases, so I expect this will be completed shortly.
Net net: I think the SIPPhone gang has a winner here. 
And now the joke:  Area code 775 is a real area code, encompassing (drum roll please) all of Nevada except for Las Vegas.  Presumably it also encompasses the US Airforce Base at Groom Lake known as Area51.  Whoops!  I think I just saw a UFO — an Unidentified Fone Origination.  (Oh… that was bad.  Talk about reaching for it…)

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