Free, when used in combination with a service, often raises red flags, and that is why I was highly skeptical when Chris Lyman, chief executive and founder of Los Angeles, Calif.-based Fonality called to talk about his “free” VoIP phone service for small and medium sized businesses.
Well it is kind of free!
Lyman’s start-up is going to start offering the basic edition of its PBX software, trixbox Pro for free, and will allow free calling between folks who are on trixnet, a network that connects all trixbox users. “It is free IP calling service that uses your regular phone number,” says Lyman. Here is how it works:
At the time of installing trixbox Pro, the small business owners will be asked to enter their PSTN number. This number is used as an ID, and whenever someone places an outbound call, the system looks up if the number being dialed is on trixnet. If the system finds it in the database, then the call goes over trixnet instead of going over the incumbent phone company’s network. In case the system can’t find a match, the call is sent over the PSTN network. (See video of how it works.)
The company is pushing this new service with a tongue in cheek tagline, “use your phone company, just stop paying them.” Lyman claims that the look up takes less than ten milliseconds, and it would be his way to compete with large PBX vendors such as Avaya, Nortel (NT) and Cisco Systems (CSCO). The company plans to extend the trixnet to its trixbox CE (Community Edition) platform, and in early 2008, Fonality will also extend free trixNet calling to include anybody using GoogleTalk.
For trixnet to have a major and meaningful impact, Fonality is going to need a lot of business owners (and network integrators) downloading and installing the trixbox software.
This also brings up the issue of disparate VoIP networks, that don’t work with each other, even though they are based on open standards such as SIP., and spend all their energies trying to get people on-net.
… the VoIP industry is missing the most important virtue of this technology, the ability to interoperate with many devices, which ultimately means fair choice to the consumer….Maybe an open communications federation needs to be constructed. An organization that is collectively owned and operated by all communications service providers involved.