The Skype-like Babble.net service provides portable VOIP on a USB stick.
Babble.net, an Internet telephony provider, is challenging Skype for a larger share of subscribers by offering greater flexibility in making VOIP calls.
The London-based company announced a new USB stick, dubbed the Babblestick, that can be plugged into any PC to make a free VOIP (voice-over-IP) call, without having to download software to the PC first.
The 256MB Babblestick, which includes a headset, automatically uploads the Babble software to a PC when it is plugged into a USB port. It allows users to make free phone calls to and from any other Babble user as well as to exchange text messages.
Unlike a similar Bluetooth device certified to work with Skype software,
the Babblestick allows calls to be made from any PC it is plugged into, according to Allan Howes, CEO of Babble.net.
"My son went on holiday recently in the Mediterranean, went to an Internet café and called us for free," Howes said.
To promote its usage, Babble.net, which has reached just over 100,000 subscribers to date, is offering a promotion that allows registered users to call other users for free in 29 different countries. The promotion allows those users to talk for 30 minutes a day, and the promotion is running for the next 90 days.
The Babblestick, which allows "VOIP on the go," lets users to carry their Babble accounts with them, including their contacts, settings and preferences. But personal information is not left behind on the PC once the user disconnects the USB stick. While the software automatically loads and runs without any configuration required, some tweaking is necessary when a firewall or VPN is being used for the Internet connection, Howes said.
Click here to read about a Skype promotion offering free outgoing calls until 2007.
Although Babble.net trails Skype and Tesco in the United Kingdom for peer-to-peer Internet telephony, it hopes to overtake those rivals, according to Howes.
"Were trying to give the users what they want and make it more of a community system," Howes said.
Other new features planned for Babble.net include the ability to "link into peoples Web sites so we can see when theyre online, and we have a tool bar that has telephone numbers on Web pages that you can click on to make calls," he said.
The Babblestick is priced at about $35.
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