A couple of days ago, I was given the opportunity to preview the SoftGnome beta which is being launched today. SoftGnome is a softphone service for PhoneGnome. PhoneGnome is providing a branded version of the NCH Express Talk phone, but you can use any SIP phone (plastic or softphone). The SoftGnome service simply uses PhoneGnome as the media gateway. What that means is that it’s the worlds first service to allow you to attach a softphone to your home PSTN number. More on that in a minute…
SoftGnome is easy to set up. If you’re a PhoneGnome user, just log into my.phonegnome.com and go to the features tab. Select activate for SoftGnome. It will then prompt you to say whether you want to have SoftGnome ring simultaneously with your pots phones when someone calls PhoneGnome. Once you’ve answered that question, then you simply have to wait a short while for the instructions on how to download and configure the default SoftGnome softphone are emailed to you.
In use, SoftGnome works as advertised. I had calls out from my PC with no problem. Calls were routed as expected — to either the PSTN, my ITSP, or other PhoneGnome users, and the sound quality was high, although it varied depending on the ITSP chosen.
One quirk took some getting used to — when one person is using the SoftGnome to call, then another person picking up the telephone in the house simply hears a dial-tone, and expects to dial. However, the outbound SoftGnome port is already in use, which means that the second persons call ends in a dial-tone. The Team at TelEvolution needs to come up with a way to indicate the line is already in use.
So, back to the point about SoftGnome being the worlds first softphone service attached to your PSTN number. Because it’s so intimately attached to your home phoneline it does some things differently from other softphone systems. For instance:
From anywhere, you can make calls using your home phoneline. If you’re in London, and need to make a call to your local cleaner in Ottawa, you can do it.
From anywhere, you can pick up local calls from your home phoneline. And you don’t have to drag around an ATA to do it. Nor do you have to use a solution like Vonage’s brain damaged softphone offering which requires you to have a separate DID. People just call you as they always have.
The implications of this are subtle but profound. Consider this: PhoneGnome, although superficially an ATA, is a programmable platform for hosting applications. Those applications are client / server applications, to be sure, but that doesn’t matter. PhoneGnome can also behave like a symmetric media gateway — passing traffic under program control from one network to another. It’s a programmable micro-switch, that lives at the edge of the nework. That’s how SoftGnome can do its magic.
Ponder that for a bit.
To me, it smells a lot like the introduction of the PC vs the mainframe. The PC replaced the mainframe with commodity programmable hardware which anyone could afford. What if we replaced the big iron in the telephone network with user provisioned "small iron", like PhoneGnome? Voice 2.0, here we come.
SoftGnome is free to try for 30 days, and after that, it’s $4.95 per month. If you’re a PhoneGnome user who travels, have a family member that lives away (say a college student) and wants to make calls to local people, or a person who needs to make long distance calls while at work, and doesn’t want to do so on the company tab, SoftGnome is a great addition to PhoneGnome. Recommended!