Sunday, September 16, 2007

PhoneGnome does the same like Ooma: free P2P phone calls to PSTN. Toll Fraud?

Do you remember PhoneGnome's "Build Your Own Ooma" challenge which they started at July 19th, 2007?
We invite any company that sees promise in Ooma’s recently announced “peer to peer” VoIP model to consider rolling such a service out on the PhoneGnome platform and see how it flies.

It seems that they have succeeded, as you can tell from the latest post in the PhoneGnome blog. The company does not declare a winner of the challenge, so they probably developed the new "Directed Calling / Remote POTS Access" feature of PhoneGnome by themselves. It resembles quite exactly what Ooma already does:
This feature enables remote access to your POTS phone service (the telephone service connected to the PhoneGnome box LINE port). A user with the PhoneGnome box can grant access to other PhoneGnome accounts. Such an authorized user can then use their PhoneGnome account to direct a call to a specific POTS telephone service.

With the new Directed Calling / Remote POTS Access feature, friends and family members in one area can place calls to local numbers in another area. One PhoneGnome box can serve any number of accounts whether those accounts have the PhoneGnome box or not.

That's also the Ooma model: Phone calls are delivered over the internet and terminated for free to the PSTN over an Ooma or PhoneGnome box, since people in the US usually have free local calls. But other than Ooma the PhoneGnome feature can also work internationally. If I had a PhoneGnome at home I could directly allow other users to make free calls to Germany by sharing my phone line. Ooma restricts its free calls only to the USA.

Another big difference is that with PhoneGnome you know at least who is sharing your phone line, while Ooma just accomplishes other people's phone calls over your fixed phone line whithout even telling you. You can find the implications of this in my former blog post "Why Ooma is a security risk". In contrast the "Directed Calling / Remote POTS Access" feature of PhoneGnome adds a sumbenu called "PhoneGnome Users Permitted to Use your Phone Line". That gives a sense of security if people grant that permission only to friends and family members. But I guess that we will soon hear about PhoneGnome users who grant free calls to anyone unknown who gives them free calls in his area in exchange. One PhoneGnome box can serve any number of accounts and so it's theoretically possible to build a network for worldwide free phone calls. Yet there are PhoneGnome users in over 100 countries.

So it seems that the PhoneGnome is now slightly ahead in the funny feature fight with Ooma.

But what about the Toll Fraud?

Only one month ago PhoneGnome's CEO David Beckemeyer reasoned in his blog and in a conversation with The VoIP weblog that the way Ooma operates could be construed as Toll Fraud, or at the very least, against the terms of service of your phone company. He quoted an AT&T web page that says:
You would never allow a stranger to walk into your place of business and walk off with your company’s products or services. And yet, an individual who perpetrates toll fraud on an unsuspecting business is doing just that.

Simply put, remote toll fraud is the fraudulent, illegal use of a company’s telecommunications system by a third party from a remote location.

Very diplomatically he concluded in his blog post that it was "probably just a coincidence that we receive this notice at the same time that Ooma is launching a service that permits strangers remote access to one's telecommunications system (specifically our AT&T landline)".

Now the PhoneGnome does the same.

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