Today I got a chance to speak with David Beckemeyer, the CEO of TelEvolution, the company he has founded to bring these cool things to market. I posted about PhoneGnome a while back, and commented a bit on the company. David has surrounded himself with first rate advisors, and was the co-founder of EarthLink, which is probably the most recognizable ISP in the US after AOL.
The SoftGnome was officially launched today, and this sure is an interesting application. Here's the press release:
This is their version of a soft phone, but like PhoneGnome, is designed to work with your existing POTS line. It's cheaper than a soft phone client from the likes of a Vonage (only $4.95/mo.), so if you want the benefits of VoIP in your home, and on the go, you really don't need to sign on with a VoIP provider. PhoneGnome gives you VoIP functionality over POTS, and using their LD partners, you'll still come out ahead compared to getting a VoIP plan and keeping bare minimum POTS for lifeline support. Plus, you get the reliabililty of POTS, 911, 411, etc., and of course, you keep your phone number. That in itself is pretty neat.
Now, add the SoftGnome, and you have the full package. The really cool thing is you keep your regular phone number, and with SoftGnome you can make or receive calls on your PC. So, imagine call forwarding your POTS calls to your computer. Or, when you make outbound SoftGnome calls, your POTS number shows up at the other end on their caller ID - regardless of where you're calling from.
So, it's VoIP with a twist - a true hybrid approach that combines the best of both worlds - POTS and VoIP. How about PoIP - POTS over IP? You get the idea. This is one of those things that's fairly intuitive, but the wow factor doesn't sink in until you use it.
In terms the business model, my question to David was this - are you friend or foe to the RBOC? The answer isn't totally clear, as it's really a bit of both. They could embrace it for defensive reasons and mitigate some erosion of revenues, but could also use it on the offensive for pursuing growth out of region.
TelEvolution is also targeting ITSPs and ISPs, where the appeal is pretty easy to see. PhoneGnome and SoftGnome really eliminate the need for these operators to build out a VoIP infrastructure, and they can basically have plug-and-play VoIP out of the box.
Given David's track record, I have no doubt he's on to something good here, and the market will start paying attention when he can establish some major channels and distribution partners. At the heart of this is his philosophy of making Internet applications open to all, and getting away from the walled gardens that so many operators have and continue to build.
Thanks to Andy Abramson for getting me connected to his client, and helping get the word out about some innovative products. These are exactly the kinds of products the market needs for VoIP to reach mass adoption, and give the operators an avenue to make some money.