Review: 6 Skype Alternatives Offer New Services - InformationWeek

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Review: 6 Skype Alternatives Offer New Services

In an effort to compete with the market leader, VoIP services such as GrandCentral and TalkPlus have come up with some interesting and useful features that may inspire you to switch.

The first generation of VoIP services -- Vonage, Skype and others -- used computer and Internet technologies to make voice communications cheaper (and often free). Now a second generation of services is integrating VoIP with mobile and POTS handsets and services as they try to find ways to compete with their more established big brothers.

6 Skype

•  GrandCentral

•  TalkPlus

•  Jajah

•  Talkster

•  Jangl

•  Jaxtr

Some of these services offer a complex mix of features while others are one-trick ponies. Some charge for their services while others are free (or, at least, free while they experiment with product and market demand). They all push the envelope of what you can do with various combinations of voice calling, text messaging, e-mail, and the Web -- and they create an opportunity for you to do some nifty new tricks with your telephones, voicemail, and text messaging at little or no cost.

In this round-up, I look at three categories of services that are now being offered by some of these new companies. They include:

  • Numbers that ring where you are. Telephones have always tied together service and location: You got local rates and could receive calls when you were at home, but not when you were traveling. Services like GrandCentral and TalkPlus break that link, relaying calls made to local numbers across the country or around the world to whatever phone you want.

  • Free calls . . . to the right people. Several new services are trying to win customers with free calling -- even for international calls. Jajah, for example, lets you call other Jajah users free in seven countries (and hopes you'll find the service, which lets you make VoIP calls on your regular phone without special hardware, so convenient you'll spend enough on other calls to make them money). Talkster will connect your Web-enabled mobile phone to users of some voice-enabled IM services for free, and once you're in the door, hopes you'll use their service for its low rates and convenience -- it lets you get around some mobile plans' limitations on international calls and call almost anywhere in the world at low prices per minute.

  • Anonymous calling for social networkers. Jangl and Jaxtr are adding value to VoIP by connecting callers without revealing personal information like phone numbers. Jangl uses e-mail addresses to connect voice callers, and Jaxtr focuses on widgets you can put on your Web page that let people reach you without giving up your privacy.

The question is: Do the extra features that these services offer make them true competition for the market leaders? Let's find out.

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