MOBIVOX (formerly known as VoxLib) today goes commercial with what it says is the first-ever service to bring VoIP to any mobile phone and without a client download, PC, connection fee or contract. Theres just one catch: you have to call them before you can call anyone else.
While some others have been doing limited tests of VoIP wireless phones or fixed/mobile convergence services, MOBIVOX CEO Stephane Marceau said his companys approach allows users to enjoy the service over any wireless network and dont require them to get a new handset or download software to participate. The difference is we go after the average consumer with an approach that is frictionless, he said. We dont ask people to buy a different handset, and that is not trivial.
It works like this: Existing Skype users visit the MOBIVOX Web site, enter their Skype name, and MOBIVOX grabs their entire buddy list. This gives users access to all of their Skype buddies via mobiles, and lets them know if their pals are online.
MOBIVOX also assigns a local number, which is used each time a user makes a mobile call; it connects to an automated voice system, and a voice command is used to dial the intended party. At its launch Monday, those local numbers are available in 23 countries to enable users to receive unlimited Skype calling, whether local or long-distance, including international.
You can call London for 10 to 20 cents per minute, said Marceau, adding thats just the cost of the local wireless call. It can cost $1.50 on Verizon Wireless, for example but thats not a specific number.
But Marceau said MOBIVOX is more than a glorified calling-card company. The company also offers cellular phone users such enhanced calling features as instant conferencing, fixed-to-mobile handoff, unified address book and Web calling, which are all offered free for a limited time.
The instant conferencing feature allows users to hit the star key mid-call and use a voice command to add up to 10 callers to the conversation.
The fixed-to-mobile handoff allows users to use the voice command transfer home to ring that users home phone; once the user picks up the home phone, the system disconnects the cell phone link.
The unified address book in the cloud is the ultimate stickiness, he added.
It appears the business plan for MOBIVOX long term is to make money on the enhanced services, although Marceau said tying advertising in its services may also be in the cards going forward.
Marceau added that MOBIVOX, which primarily goes direct to the consumer, is initially targeting individuals in England and the United States who are heavy users of Skype and international calling services. But the company also has a trial under way with a leading European carrier that Marceau declined to name. At first we did not chase carriers, but a few knocked on our doors, so weve been nothing but extremely impressed, especially with that European carrier, said the formal Bell Canada executive, adding that carrier plans to distribute the MOBIVOX service through its own brand.
In its past life as VoxLib, the company offered a service called Vox for Skype. But Marceau said MOBIVOX is an entirely different animal a different platform, different experience, different service altogether.
Unlike MOBIVOX, he said, Vox for Skype is a PC application, is a Skype extension, requires download and install on PC, requires that user buy a Skype IN number, requires the PC to be ON and connected to the Internet and to Skype, can only be operated through a keypad, and is designed to appeal to very early adopters to get consumer insights.