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I’m sure you’ve seen this robbery tactic before…a person catches your attention and begins to talk to you and while they are talking to you, their accomplice is robbing you blind.
Today I received an email from my VOIP provider Vonage that has me wondering. The bottom line from the email is Vonage bills will be increased by $1/month starting with billing dates in late April. We will also be able to use free 411 service (something I’ve never used in 5 years). By raising their fees which are hidden on the Vonage website, they keep their sales price low. Here’s the full email I received:
Dear Allen Stern –
At Vonage, we’re committed to providing our valued customers with the best experience possible through regular updates to our services. Effective April 23, 2010, we’re making the following changes:
We’re adding free, unlimited Enhanced 411 to all Vonage calling plans – saving you $1.49 per 411 call! This added benefit is included in the Emergency 911 and Information Services Fee which also ensures we provide nationwide E911 service in accordance with FCC regulations.
In addition, the Regulatory and Compliance Fee becomes the Regulatory, Compliance and Intellectual Property Fee. This fee covers our regulatory-related and legal compliance expenses, including those related to customer privacy protection, anti-fraud protection and number portability, as well as intellectual property-related costs enabling our services.
Both fees will increase from $1.49 per month to $1.99 per month beginning with your first billing cycle on or after April 23, 2010. This change will allow Vonage to maintain our commitment to safety, innovation and customer service.
I think it would have made more sense to send an email noting the pricing fee change and then include the free 411 service in their normal monthly email. The way they sent this email feels like they are trying to hide the 33% increase in their fees.
In case you are wondering, I went on a hunt and found that the Regulatory, Compliance and Intellectual Property Fee covers:
- Customer privacy protection
- Anti-fraud protection
- Number portability
- Intellectual property-related costs enabling our services
At least I know from their email that my additional $1 will mean excellent customer service!
Vonage has launched a new service today called V-Access. The service is pretty interesting. Say you are in the UK and need to call your sister (who is a Vonage customer) in the U.S. You could use a calling card, Skype, etc. And now you can use a local number in the UK to call your sister in the U.S. This service is currently available in the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the UK. I think even better is the fact that you can call 800#'s which you can't easily do from overseas.
V-Access provides an access number to make calls to any Vonage phone number (or an 800-number) without paying long distance or international fees. With V-Access, callers do not need to have a Vonage line to call a Vonage number (or an 800-number) for the price of a local call.
Best part? You don't even need to be a Vonage customer to use the service.
We posted about GrandCentral’s launch earlier this week and I had a chance to interview Craig Walker from GrandCentral. His new web app has received a lot of press and I wanted to find out more about the product. Also we will discuss where the company is going in the future and where Craig sees VOIP in the coming years.
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Click the start button below to begin the audio interview (or download the mp3):
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Below is a partial text transcript of the audio interview. Please listen to the audio for the entire discussion.
How did you come up with the idea for GrandCentral?
I came up with the idea just looking around and seeing and having worked in the VOIP space for a while with DialPad before this in how could you use VOIP technology to do unique stuff on the application side rather than just getting cheaper minutes. And having multiple phone numbers was something that was beginning to bother me, needing to check multiple voice mail messages, taking more calls on my cell phone, etc. So I started thinking about if this could be solved by coming up with a new service and actually believed that it could. And set out to do it.
What is the meaning behind the name GrandCentral?
|“GrandCentral was a perfect fit for it, as it’s where all these roads meet at one central place.”|
We were trying to come up with a name that would embody how you could manage all of your calls using one number. GrandCentral was a perfect fit for it, as it’s where all these roads meet at one central place. Luckily enough, we knew the person who owned the URL and trademarks so we acquired it from them. They were not using it at the time so it has worked out very well.
What does the current revenue model look like for GrandCentral?
Currently we are offering a free beta service. If you sign up during the beta period, we will give you 60 days of our free unlimited premium service. Once we come out of the beta period and go into our commercial launch, we will have two tiers of service initially. One is a free service, where you pick a local number, get free voicemail, forwarding to four phone numbers, and 100 minutes of connected minutes. If you want you can purchase a bucket of overage minutes that will rollover month-to-month for $10.00/400. The other plan is an unlimited plan for $14.99 that will give you unlimited inbound connected calls, save voicemails for life, forward up to 7 telephones and you can even upload up to 100 mp3s to select as unique ring shares for callers.
Can you speak to your user base?
We are seeing all sorts of different users. There are a lot of users like me that have multiple phone numbers and multiple voice mailboxes and tired of missing a lot of calls or tired of getting too many calls on their cell phones because that is where people have gravitated to for finding someone. And so we are seeing a lot of unifying type users but we are also seeing a lot of users just using it for fun. Because it does a lot of cool things. You can screen every call, so you can find who’s calling and why, you can listen to voicemails live as they are being recorded and then jump into the call. Even people who only have one phone are using it to listen into their voice mail and to customize how different callers are treated. So we have the productivity guys and the personalization crowd. And we are seeing two main groups emerging her.
You certainly have received a ton of press coverage. Can you share any insight into your marketing plans?
Our marketing plans are really focused around viral marketing growth. We believe that if we do our job right, our users will be our best ambassadors to spread the word that there is this great service that I use and love and has all these cool features. How can we spread viral growth? We also demo’ed at the DEMO conference and that generated some good publicity and PR and if you have a service that people like you just need to get the ball rolling and hopefully they will tell other users and they will tell other users. And everyone can relate to having a telephone and to why every caller gets treated the same and its annoying to deal with voicemail systems where 7 is delete on one, 3 on another, its frustrating. And so to have a service that gives all these features in simple, easy-to-use, free (or low price), allows the viral aspect of this to grow.
What is the technology behind GrandCentral?
The backend we have taken a proprietary soft-switch that we have enhanced and our border controller on it. It is a highly customizable soft-switch that we have put our layers of applications on top of it. That’s where all of the interesting call control features happen. We want to make all of your devices work together.
On the front end, MySQL and some PostgreSQL, and some Flash, Ajax and PHP. There is some interesting stuff you can do now with Flash and Ajax with the way our player works and it is a powerful combination to put the two of them together.
What percentage of the area codes in the usa do you have covered? So far I have heard the most comments about no numbers in Texas, but I also noticed that there is nothing in NYC.
So we have tons of DIDs on the way, we probably have about 60-70% of the US population covered and we have a whole lot more coming to fill it in. Sometimes its hard to get numbers in the most populous places because there is a shortage of them. We are a startup and are not going to sit on 4 million numbers waiting for users to come.
Do you see toll-free numbers coming at some point?
Yea, we definitely launched with a consumer focused, get people using it and get a lot of feedback on what they like and what they think could be improved. We also think that it has a lot of applications for a small and medium sized business. There will be more business features and business plans coming in the future but right now we are cranking getting everything ready for the consumer launch getting everything ready for the end of the beta period.
Do you envision any growth in Europe or Asia?
It’s an opportunity in a lot of markets around the world, because people have the same problem everywhere. And Asia and Western Europe are two of the more attractive markets.
Who are GrandCentral’s main competitors?
You know it is interesting, we have tried to define a new space. There are a lot of companies who did a find me follow me type service in the past, but this is a lot more than that. We are finding from our users, even if they live on their cell phone only, that they still love it. There are people who have done pieces of this but we have not seen anyone who has done all of it. I am sure if we do well competitors will come out of the woodwork, but right now that we don’t see as competitors. We do see a lot of potential partners.
Any upcoming partnerships, collaborations or integrations?
Ever since we have had some soft discussions while we have been developing the product. Since the launch on Monday, we have had a lot of interest from a lot of interesting companies to do things together. Unfortunately, most of them are under NDAs so there is not a lot we can talk about, but there is a lot of interesting potential partnerships.
If I am outside of the home, and I forgot to forward calls to my cell, is there a way to do it remotely away from the computer?
The nice thing is that the way we setup is that you don’t need to keep coming back. At sign up you give us the phone numbers you want the call forwarded to and that’s pretty much it. Say you give me work, cell and home phone number and we will use those numbers to find you at. If you are on the road and need to add another number, just call your number and you can easily add another temporary number. So it is really simple.
Can you talk about the portability issue in taking a GrandCentral number to another provider at a later time?
Our stance on that issue is that we want happy users, we aren’t just going to keep you because we have access to the number. If you want to leave and take your GrandCentral number with you, we are not going to stand in your way. If you have a provider that you want to take the number to, we will work with our partners where we got the number from to make sure to help you get it transferred to that provider. We are not going to hold our customers captive just because we can. Our view is to create a company that consumers will want to work with and be part of. We are going to earn the customers we have.
Where do you see GrandCentral going in the next 1-3 years?
The vision of GrandCentral is to continue to build on the promise of having a personal communications service that gives you basically all of the communications features that you want in one place that will work no matter what provider you are using for your inputs. I see us growing our user base and continuing to add features and expand our mission without losing focus on what users want.
Where do you see VOIP going in the next 1-3 years?
I don’t know. I ran DialPad for 5 years and we saw the price game eroding and now Skype is giving free phone calls to US phones and others are giving free calls to international destinations. It seems like 1999 all over again when DialPad was giving free calls all of the world and it is interesting. The end point charging per minute VOIP seems in question now and the companies who add real value are those that provide features that are unique that people want and stick around for and not just people trying to save a penny a minute on a long distance call. The price game in VOIP has been taken down to a zero sum game sometimes.
Anything else you would like to add?
|“I would say that we are very consumer focused.”|
I would say that we are very consumer focused. We started this because we were frustrated with the lack of features across all of our services. This is our initial feature set and during the beta period we are going to continue to refine it and make it fantastic. And then launch paid service and continue to add more features as time goes on. We will always be evolving and innovating.
When do you expect to exit the beta period?
That is the beautiful thing about a beta period. It can depend on how many things we find and how quickly we fix them. But it has been going relatively well so far so I hope it won’t be too long but I can’t put any date on it.
Well we have reached the end of our interview with Craig. Thanks to Craig for participating and to you for reading and listening.
If you would like to participate in a conversation on CenterNetworks, or if you have any comments or questions, you can contact me via e-mail at allen===at===centernetworks.com or visit CenterNetworks for all of our news, reviews, insights and conversations.