Call China for free: Talkster improves VOIP service

Toronto-based VOIP company Talkster is hoping to attract business users to their ad-driven free long distance and conference calling services by adding China to their service list and partnering with ad supplier VoodooVox, the company says.

China is the latest addition to a list of more than 30 countries where Talkster users can make free phone calls, the Toronto-based company announced yesterday. Adding one-fifth of the world’s population to its Free World Dialing service comes complete with a Mandarin-language web page.

Talkster was praised by attendees of the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2007 conference in San Francisco last October. What proved popular was the company’s strategy of offering a multi-pronged approach to accessing free phone calls for customers and offering location-based delivery for advertisers. 

Here’s how it works: you type in your number and the number of the person you are calling and Talkster supplies you with two local numbers. You phone the person’s new local number and are given about 10 seconds to tell them to call you back at your Talkster local number that was sent to them by SMS. Both parties listen to a 10-second advertisement and then you’re connected.

Free long distance and free conference calls for up to five people should attract small businesses looking to save on their bottom line, says Talkster COO and co-founder James Wanless. “They’re paying a lot of money for conference calling currently.”

Analysts agree that small businesses may look to Talkster to provide free call-bridging, and some intra-business communication. But there is too great a barrier to expect it to be a good customer communications tool.

“Are small businesses going to get their clients to sign up to this?” says Paul Edwards, Director of SMB and Channel Strategies Research at IDC. “That seems strange.”

Adding China to its service roster is a good move for Talkster, says Roberta Fox, senior partner at Fox Group Telecom Consulting. It makes the service more appealing to certain pockets of Canada that are doing a good deal of business with the country.

“China is expanding as an international exporter,” says Fox. “There’s been a big increase in Canada-China trade.”

Talkster also made a deal with VoodooVox last week to use their In-Call Network to deliver geo-targeted, interactive advertisements. The 10-second blurbs are location based so that clients might consider them more useful than annoying.

The interactive element comes in the form of an SMS sent to the caller. From there a user can surf the web to get more product information, or be connected directly to the advertiser to ask further questions.

Talkster separates itself from other VOIP competitors like Skype by offering multiple ways to access their service, and not piping their data over the internet. Instead they rely on traditional land lines and their own managed network, which they say is better than standard phone quality.

Users can access Talkster via www.talkster.com, using their mobile phone, iPhone, or a Facebook application. The idea is to be accessible to everyone, Wanless says.

“Skype is for when you’re sitting at the PC,” Wanless explains. “With Talkster, you can use it wherever you are.

“You want your Grandmother to be able to use it just as easily as you can with your new iPhone.”

The Facebook application allows social networkers to add their contacts to a group that they can then conference call. Once the group is created, Facebook is no longer needed to connect with the users. An anonymous phone number feature also allows users the privacy of hiding their own phone number if talking with a dodgy contact.

Talkster’s moves indicate a growing trend for VOIP, say analysts. It’s moving out of the fringes of business communications and becoming a low-cost, and increasingly better quality alternative to traditional phone services.

VOIP is “adding new products and services and is changing the rules” when it comes to phone charges, Fox says. “It’s going to drive carriers to get more aggressive with their pricing.”

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