Skype Rival Offers Free Phone Numbers

by Michael Muchmore

Skype users will be familiar with the service’s "SkypeIn" feature, which lets you buy a phone number that will work for any landline or cell phones. As of Monday, VoxOx, a new service from business telecom provider TeleCentris, will offer inbound telephone numbers to all of its users for free.

The service also offers many other VOIP and Skype-like features, including instant messaging, video chatting, SMS text messaging, callback, and faxing. Its "one number follow me" feature will even let users enter numbers to ring successively in case they’re not at the main phone number – similar to Vonage’s Enhanced Call Forwarding. They can even create a "this number is not in service" message for telemarketers.

"We are connected to so many people through so many channels that communication is becoming increasingly unmanageable in today’s media-centric society," said Bryan Hertz, chief executive of TelCentris. "The typical consumer, ages 14 to 45, wakes up and moves from Facebook, to Skype, to Blackberry or iPhone, to Gmail and Google Talk, to MySpace, to YouTube to Yahoo Messenger, to a landline phone, and then back again. This communications frenzy has created a need for a single tool to manage all connections and contacts so that consumers can take control of their interconnected lifestyle. That’s why we’ve created VoxOx."

Users can bring in all their contacts from email accounts, instant messaging, and social networks to create a "meta address book". VoxOx is targeting its service at so-called "Millennials" and Gen Xers, who have come to rely on SMS text messaging as the primary method of communicating with friends and family. But the support for email, IM, and telephone lines brings Baby Boomers and older users into the fold.

The VoxOx home interface resembles that of the iPhone, with square icons for each application. Just as with the iPhone, applications can be built by third-party developers using an open API. The key apps, though, are the VoxOx supplied Contacts, which resembles an IM client’s buddy list and shows the availability of your contacts if the service they’re on provides that info. Like Trillian, VoxOx lets users chat with friends using the IM services they already use, such as AIM, Yahoo, or MSN/Windows Live Messenger.

Since VoxOx’s maker is a telecommunications provider, it can provide some slick features not found in Skype, such as the ability to transfer a call from the web interface to a cell phone and to ring several numbers in order to reach you, with the "one number follow me" feature. Voicemail is included, along with a call directing "personal assistant" which can forward calls to a number of the caller’s choice from a voice menu. Three-way calling with a personal choice of hold music is also available. The service also offers two-way texting, inbound fax receiving, and fax-to-email capability. An SMS "callback" feature lets you send a text to a number from your cellphone to be connected to another phone anywhere by texting the number to VoxOx.

Users who sign up for VoxOx will get 120 minutes free calling time, but the company has offered the first 500


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