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Aliens are Calling Me From Nevada: Area775 Debuts

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:

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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):

  • No international phone numbers available.  Skype has these.
  • 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.
  • Some of the features require you to navigate to a CallWave website, who presumably is the partner SIPPhone is using for the service. 
  • 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…)

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Oshoma Momoh February 16, 2006, 9:52 am

    So what’s the best equivalent that supports Canadian numbers, Alec? Vonage? Skype? Something else? VOIP newbies need advice.

  • Andrew February 16, 2006, 10:30 am

    Is your Gnomephone on the way to the dumpster as well Alec? Area775 seems like a great feature set, but they are missing the viral play-big time. In order to try the service you must leave your credit card information on file, doesn’t this break the cardinal rule for web apps? I agree, the backend isn’t completely done and the rushed a feature set to market with a (lets charge and keep the adoption rate down) strategy. Not smart & rather hokey move for a company that just closed 6M in VC.

    It is smart to leverage strategic partnerships with other service providers, but they all have to be under one umbrella, and appear seemless to the end user. They aren’t using paypal – because this service is farmed out and they didn’t build a remittance solution between the service provider and the Gizmo Paypal account.

  • Alec February 16, 2006, 10:54 am

    Hey Osh,

    At this time there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent in Canada, and I am not completely sure why that is. There are two potential sticking points:

    1) Wholesale phone numbers in the US are much cheaper. I’ve seen them for as little as 10 cents a month. Up here, I haven’t seen them for less than $1.50. I don’t know why that is, but it’s the low cost origination that allows SIPPhone to do what they do, and it doesn’t seem to available here.

    2) The CRTC doesn’t really cut upstarts a lot of slack. Give out a phone number, here, and you have to provide 911. So, Skype-In doesn’t have service here, for example.

    The best deal I’ve found to date is Unlimitel. They have a couple of packages in the $15 to $20 range which offer unlimited calling on their network from London to Montreal, and 4 cents Canadian off net. It’s still less than a third of Bell Canada, and means substantial savings.

    And, as Andrew points out, I am a big fan of PhoneGnome, which we use at my house. I won’t be dumping PhoneGnome because it’s so easily used by my family and saves us so much money.

  • David Orban February 16, 2006, 1:52 pm

    I used a non-US credit card to sign up for the free Area775 account, and number. While the fields that the form requires would be confusing for people who don't reside in the USA, the system didn't object to the values that I used, and properly validated my card.

  • Alex February 17, 2006, 8:08 am

    Notice offering some UK numbers, so maybe ramping features fast.

    Failure to offer non-US termination will kill a lot of potential business. Appreciate the US is a nice juicy market, but leaves a lot of business on the table.

    Been using a similar centrex-type service for years…but at c. $50pcm.

    Once solid, services like this clearly have big disruptive potential to disenfranchise access providers, whether telco or cellco. Let the fun begin…

  • David Beckemeyer February 22, 2006, 9:12 pm

    Alec, since PhoneGnome supports open-standard SIP protocols, I think you can use a service from someone like of the following:

    http://www.virtualphoneline.com/

    http://www.voxbone.com/

    http://www.didww.com/

    http://les.net/

    To forward the number to your PhoneGnome SIP address sip:number@sip.phonegnome.com

  • David Beckemeyer February 23, 2006, 1:34 am

    Oh yeah, and you can also get a free 360 area code number from these folks: http://ipkall.com

    To have that PSTN number ring at your PhoneGnome, set the fields as follows:

    SIP Phone Number: yournumber
    SIP Proxy: sip.phonegnome.com

    In the above ‘yournumber’ is your number with county-code, area code, and number (e.g. 1xxxyyyzzz for US/Canada numbers)

  • Kenneth Matinale June 4, 2006, 2:50 am

    I just sent this to Jason Droege
    pr@sipphone.com

    To: Jason Droege
    http://sipphone.com/press/pr_feb16_2006.html

    That's the link for your press release:

    New Area775 Service Is First To Link VOIP and Traditional Phone System

    San Diego, CA February 16, 2006

    Check this Gizmo forum thread on 775:
    http://forum.gizmoproject.com/viewtopic.php?t=243

    Gizmo Project Bug Reports

    775 – can't answer the call

    There is no record of anyone receiving a call and no Gizmo support and/or SIP Phone people have responded with any fix. Try calling me.

    (775) 618-4502

  • Michelle December 3, 2006, 9:21 pm

    I love aliens

  • Angela M October 28, 2011, 1:05 pm

    HAHA i love the name 😀

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