Monday, August 13, 2007

My apologies to David Beckemeyer from PhoneGnome

In one of my last posts, "Why isn't the US the "land of the free" also in VoIP?", I critized US American VoIP companies that normally lock their ATAs to just one provider. I also mentioned PhoneGnome, but that was a little bit unfair since they are a real example of openness on the market. Their box does exactly what I want from an ATA: Be open for other providers too. CEO David Beckemeyer explains it in a comment on GigaOM:
Users of the PhoneGnome box can select ANY third-party SIP-based provider for call termination (in response to Fritz!box comment). We offer a number of plans from our partners, but users do not have to use them. See ‘Bring Your Own Provider’ option on this page: and also, we have promoted open and interoperable as a cornerstone of our philosophy, so it comments tossing PhoneGnome in with all the closed services out there is a tad annoying:

David also gave a good explanation of "free on net calls", just to show afterwards that PhoneGnome has something even better:
With a service like Free world dialup (FWD) or Skype, it means I can call another FWD user using FWD, but I dial a weird FWD number (not their normal number) and the call rings to their FWD “bat phone” or PC (not their regular phone).
In comparation PhoneGnome provided when introduced in 2005 and continues to provide a unique version of on-net calls:
1. I dial the person’s real phone number
2. The call rings to the person’s regular phone (fixed or mobile)
3. I pay NO monthly fees

So PhoneGnome seems to store normal PSTN numbers in their system to reach them for free by VoIP, similar to what Fonality does with its new trixnet service for free VoIP calls.

Sorry, David Beckemeyer, you seem to be one of the good guys in the industry who really embraces the openness of the SIP standard for VoIP. It was wrong to choose PhoneGnome as a negative example of how VoIP companies use the feature of "free calls between their members" in their marketing message. I should have chosen another company which really doesn't any offer more and uses closed ATAs.

As long as there is no flatrate for worldwide free calls we need the ability to tinker with many VoIP providers in one ATA. Luca already made the call "Let’s give up on the PSTN", and said "if any broadband owner became a FWD member, the dream of PSTN-free communication could quickly become reality". Yes, if all broadband owners would listen to Luca and use the same VoIP provider, FWD, then we needed for phone calls only our "weird FWD number", as David calls it.

All phone calls would be free on net calls. No need to install several providers in one ATA.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the nice comments, Markus.

    The bottom line is, the reasons for starting PhoneGnome in 2003-2004 were very similar for me to those of EarthLink back in 1994.

    It was really cool all the things us geeks were doing with ATAs, and Asetrisk, SER, etc. and I wanted to create a platform/service that made some of these same things easy for ordinary (non-technical) users.

    This included a plug-and-play box that still supported standard SIP. Luca's exact vision was our vision back then, a practical migration path where everything would simply be all IP, but that a non-technical person could take that step transparently, seamlessly, (without breaking what they already use) simply by hooking up a box and continuing to dial the phone numbers they already knew (rather than having to be technical enough to setup an ATA for FWD and learning yet another number for everyone). The FWD approach requires jumping in with both feet up to the neck, too much for many mainstream users, whereas the idea with PhoneGnome was to dip a tow, then a foot, then knee etc. and eventually be in a real interoperable pure-IP world, almost without even noticing the transition.

    But a lot of us missed an important detail. For the mass market, their phone is not broken. We geeks know we "should" and "could" all be using IP for all calls, but it's not a high priority for real mass-market consumers.

    It is frustrating that even today, several years later, how little the industry has embraced interoperability (there has been almost no progress at all) and the media and industry experts have not really made an issues of it.

    One mission with the PhoneGnome product is to make technical things as accessible and understandable as possible for non-technical users, to try to use language and settings that apply more to the real world than to technical underpinnings. This can actually confuse technical users who essentially "want it to be hard" :) An example is how users dial real phone numbers in their usual way. This is often something that many tech. users familiar with other VoIP get stuck on (believe it or not).

    We've tried to make the equivalent of setting up an ATA with a half dozen providers something a non-technical user can do without having to become an ATA or SIP guru. An example of this is the "overrides" feature where customers can create their own "least-cost routing" but hopefully in a way that is easier than programming dial plans:

    Anyway, thanks again.


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