I’ve just turned my i5-powered laptop into a telephone, using a new piece of software from Phone.com called Communicator. It’s available for download now, in a “soft launch” stage prior to any sort of splashy announcement.
Making calls from your laptop, or any PC for that matter, doesn’t sound too exciting to most folk. After all, we’ve had various VoIP applications for years now – think Skype, AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft Messenger, and lots of others – many of which started out as text only, added voice, grew into video, and finally gained the ability to call ‘real’ telephones. But to think of Communicator as just another jazzed-up voice and/or video-enabled messenger program would be a big mistake.
What Communicator does is turns your computer into an extension of your small business phone system. For those who fly a desk 99% of the time that’s no big deal. But for road warriors, it’s an absolute blessing. Indeed for anyone who has to be out of the office on business, or pleasure, even a bit of the time it’s ideal.
What it means is that you can be sitting in a hotel room in Paris, connected to the Internet, and have an extension of your office phone system right there with you. All the so-called “free” VoIP apps can’t provide you with that. Calls can come in, and go out, just as if you were in the home office. And if you don’t tell them, your clients will never even know you’re not in the office.
And the price? I shouldn’t even have to mention it. Most folk reading this blog know what Phone.com service costs. Now look at your other options – very pricey international cell phone roaming rates, sometimes exorbitant hotel phone charges, possibly the rental cost of a local cell phone. And I might add that the ‘free’ jazzed-up messenger programs stop being free when you call a ‘real’ telephone.
There is, of course, an alternative to Communicator whose function is nearly identical. You could have carried an ATA, and telephone, and power bricks, with you around the world and temporarily set up your office extension anyplace you could get Internet. But Communicator eliminates the need to lug all that stuff around and constantly put it together and take it apart. After all, you probably already have your laptop, and since Communicator is 100% software, it doesn’t add an ounce to your luggage and there’s no hardware setup involved. And even if you did bring the ATA, you still wouldn’t get video, which Communicator supports. But I’ll write about that in a future post, along with some other goodies such as the ability to use your Bluetooth headset with Communicator.
Although this is the first time I’ve written about it, I have been playing with Communicator for months, ever since it went into beta test. I’ll have lots more to say about Communicator as I play with the final version, and perhaps I’ll even reveal a fun little tale of how one of the three biggest traditional landline phone companies in the U.S. inadvertently helped out with the beta testing.
Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.