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Michael's Minute: Phone Calls Want To Be Free

The Linspire headquarters are the entire third floor of a building in San Diego. In a small office on the second floor, is another company where I spend a small fraction

Learn more on how to make a call from you computer
of my time - SIPphone. SIP is an open standard that makes it possible for phone calls to move over the Internet. It's driving a major transformation in telecom just as MP3 did with digital music. Here are the latest developments in SIP and SIPphone:

1) Calls will be free
When calls go over the net, they are just another form of data, no different than an instant message or an email. Consumers don't pay per email or per web site they visit, so why pay per call? Phone calls are the last type of data that we pay per unit and that will go away very shortly. Consumers will be required to pay for the data connection, of course (DSL, Cable modem, wireless, etc.), and they may pay for deluxe phone service, but the clock is ticking on paying for basic calling.

2) Yes, people will make calls from computers
I have to admit that when I first started SIPphone I was dubious about people making calls directly from their computer on what are called "soft phones." They are called this because they are software on a PC rather than a physical phone. See a complete list of soft phones here. Many of the software programs

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are free. There are 500 million computers on the net that can potentially make calls by downloading free software from any computer with a speaker and a microphone. My favorite program is PhoneGaim, which is now available for Microsoft Windows or Linspire/Linux. This program adds voice calling to the best meta-IM program, which means AOL users can call MSN users who can call Yahoo! users and so on.

It is more of a hassle to use a PC to make calls than to use a traditional phone because you have to plug in a headset or deal with echo or poor placement of the microphone. At the Desktop Summit, in San Diego, Feb 9-11th, SIPphone will be showcasing a new device which will change all of that. It makes PC calling even easier than regular calling! The new device will make putting a handset to your face seem like a nuisance and using a computer will actually be faster and easier.

3) A phone plug in every router
D-link, the largest consumer networking company, began this week selling one of their most popular router models with a phone plug in the back. (A router is the device that lets you plug multiple computers into your DSL or cable modem.) You simply plug in any regular telephone and immediately have a dial tone and instant phone service on any DSL or cable modem connection. No configuration. No monthly fees. No credit card required. D-link is the first major networking company to provide an open device, meaning it is not tied directly to one service. Out of the box, it supports the Plug-n-Dial standard, which

Click here to see a detailed description of the D-link router
auto-configures each device with a SIPphone number, which looks like 1-747-XXX-XXXX. There are no charges for basic SIP calling, and features like voice mail and online account management are included at no cost. Best of all, users can change to another service if SIPphone is not right for them. This gives great power to consumers, which is always a good thing!

4) Lots of financial trickery over the next year from a new breed of phone companies
There's a new breed of phone companies, like Vonage, who are implementing a stealthy campaign to deceive customers. They are selling devices and plastering the box with "Free calling! Free voice mail! Free call waiting!.
" etc., without disclosing that a monthly fee is required. They'll proudly announce "No contracts!" but fail to mention that a credit card must be on file, which is then auto-billed. And perhaps worse of all, they are not disclosing that the phone service on the router will ONLY work with Vonage. Their packaging even talks about working with "other compatible services," but it only works with Vonage. Either you pay them money or you won't have service - and remember this is for a device that you paid good money up front for. This would be like a modem company selling modems that would ONLY work with Compuserve. What a damper this would have put on Internet growth.

Vonage and other similar companies are within their rights to charge a monthly fee or to cripple a device so it will work only with their service. But they cross the line to deception when they sell networking hardware without disclosing it will only work with their service and hiding monthly fees and other charges like cancellation fees. It will likely take some lawsuits to force Vonage to be more forthcoming in their advertising. Until they do, other net calling companies are following in their footsteps, which is making net calling a confusing money trap for new users.

Click here to learn more about PhoneGaim

5) Instant messaging and voice melt together
The last thing users want is ANOTHER address book on their computer. Most already have one for email and one for instant messaging. So it seems logical for voice calling to be an extension of one of those tasks. I believe the immediacy of voice more closely resembles instant messaging style of communication. Expect to see voice integrated seamlessly into all instant messengers this year. Eventually, you should be able to click a phone number and instantly initiate a call from any program on your computer.
Imagine one click and you're talking to an eBay seller, or one click and you're talking to a potential date or you're in a group chat about your favorite hobby.

Wouldn't that be slick? Stay tuned!

-- Michael

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