November 02, 2005

Evolving Gnome: A Model for the Incumbents?

Yesterday, TelEvolution the company behind PhoneGnome announced an enhancement called SoftGnome. If you recall, PhoneGnome is a soupedup ATA that can connect either to PSTN or to a VoIP network. A clever aspect is the VoIP id is derived from the PSTN number. So PhoneGnome users always dial the PSTN number to reach the intended party and the device picks (based on the configuration) the appropriate network. But it is known for its ease of configuration – plug and play; no need to administer the phone number or anything else.

It has been widely reported that PhoneGnome is based on Sipura 3000. Apart from its ability to support the dual network connection, 3000 can also take an incoming call from PSTN and switch over to the VoIP network or vice versa. SoftGnome takes advantage of this is able to present the PSTN call to any complying SIP-based softclient that is connected to the Internet. From all accounts (by Alec, Andy, Phoneboy and Voxilla), SoftGnome is just as easy to setup as PhoneGnome is. But unlike PhoneGnome which is billed and marketed as a product, SoftGnome is a service and there is a monthly subscription fee (after the free one month trial period, the fee is $4.95 per month).

I am not able to figure out why they have moved to a service model. If my understanding is right, most of the function is performed by PhoneGnome, except possibly for the initial assignment of credentials. It has been reported that eventually an API for PhoneGnome will be made available. So can’t a third party develop an application that duplicates this?

There is an additional observation I would like to bring to your attention. PhoneGnome, just like any other ATA is really performing the functions of a Class 5 switch. PhoneGnome is able to add additional functions like voice mail, voice mail to email and now external notification of PSTN call activity – all for one low price of $120 (I am ignoring the service fee for the reason I have already stated). This means that PSTN operators can easily offer these services as well and due to engineering advantage, the capex should be much less than that for a standalone device. If only the incumbents follow this path, instead of talking about blocking VoIP or introducing VoIP in stealth.

Posted by aswath at November 2, 2005 03:34 AM
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