Service Touts VOIP Perks—Without the Hardware

By Ellen Muraskin  |  Posted 2004-11-18

Service Touts VOIP Perks—Without the Hardware

Another wrinkle on VOIP (voice over IP) service has been announced by CallWave, a Santa Barbara, Calif., company that has just signed a long-haul IP transport agreement with VOIP wholesaler Level 3.

CallWaves consumer, SOHO (small office/home office) and small-business-focused service delivers the real-time call control and mobility features of VOIP systems with none of the customer-premise hardware.

CallWave Inc.s hosting telephony platform intercepts calls made to subscribers existing phone numbers. It does this with call forwarding arrangements made through special provisioning interfaces with all four RBOCs (regional Bell operating companies): Qwest, SBC, Verizon and BellSouth.

It also can sell its subscribers a new phone number in addition to the service. Incoming calls reach CallWaves IP platform through Level 3 Communications Inc.s distributed IP network of gateways.

The CallWave platform then communicates with subscribers always-on applets to present caller ID and clickable controls. Subscribers are able to answer the calls on their regular phones, click to send the call to voice mail, pluck calls out of voice mail or route the calls to secondary endpoints, such as cellular phones. If the caller leaves a message, CallWave uses half-duplex (one-way) audio streaming over IP to present it to the subscriber in real time.

CallWave uses Level 3s termination (outgoing gateway) service to complete the call out to the subscriber, which keeps its own costs down.

The customer gets no terminal adapter, since the gatewaying to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is accomplished over Level 3s network. He or she need not even have broadband, since the call-control, Caller ID applet is not data-intensive.

The applet also can show the presence of voice mails and play them, but the recorded voice is sufficiently compressed to fit through dial-up connections, said David Hofstatter, CEO at CallWave. The company also offers inbound fax, printed from their applet.

The service has nothing to do with outgoing calls, and so offers no economy there, but it can give the user a number that can be easily routed to anywhere in the United States, a real-time screening capability and access-anywhere voice mail. Its also a good way to let users monitor and answer home calls while at work, or vice versa, Hofstatter said.

Next Page: A $4 or $8 service.

Cheap Service

He added that it presents a small bill, ranging from $4 to $8 per month. CallWaves provisioning and billing relationships with telcos allows its fee to appear as an additional charge on the subscribers local Verizon, etc., bill.

The $4 Messenger service includes the caller-ID applet, a virtual inbound fax number and the ability to hear voice mail. The $8 service, called CallWave-Connect, includes real-time ad hoc or preconfigured call forwarding to any number.

The company, which so far has sold through inexpensive, online channels, has reseller agreements with ISPs, including Earthlink. And though the IP calls theoretically can be routed to a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) phone, their typical customer doesnt have such things. Nor does he want to use a microphone and speakers. "Our approach to VOIP is shaped for the nontechnical user. To do that, you have to stay hardware-independent," Hofstatter said.

Click here for a column on a mobility and messaging add-on for the small-biz PBX.

And although they absorb a variable cost for completing calls across Level 3s network, they claim to realize an almost 90 percent gross margin on their service, because their subscribers take far fewer of their incoming calls when they can see the "enriched" caller ID.

The service comes with a "Telezapper"-type feature that screens out telemarketer calls based on heuristics and automatically deletes the subscribers number from the telemarketers autodialer.

Today, with more than 840,000 subscribers in 50 states, CallWave began in 1999 with a free, advertising-supported service named Internet Answering Machine. As an answer to the then-widespread problem of phone lines tied up on dial-up Internet connections, it simply answered incoming phone calls that hit the subscribers busy signal. Via PC applet, it presented and recorded the voice mail in real time, as the caller left it.

Faced with declining ad revenues in 2001, CallWave moved to a paid-subscription model. It added call control to its applet in 2003, allowing users to pluck callers out of voice mail and automatically forwarding calls over the PSTN to cell phones or other lines. This month, it added VOIP transport with the Level 3 agreement. The company also issued an initial public offering on Sept. 30, under the trading symbol CALL.

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