Lately there has been a lot of talk about new VoIP services that work without needing to be on your computer. Tonight two announcements were made:
1) Jajah Mobile, which claims to take the computer out of the Jajah equation. Now you can make Jajah calls directly from your existing mobile phone.
2) Rebtel, a VoIP company which offers unlimited international calling from mobile phones for $1 per week, has just announced it has received $20 million in Series A funding from Index Ventures and Benchmark Capital (the news was actually leaked to the Business 2.0 blog earlier). According to the official press release, the funds will be used "to advance Rebtel's rapid growth, expand business development and marketing efforts, and accelerate expansion into more countries around the world."
VoIP leaders Skype and Vonage also both have VoIP phone-to-phone services on the market. In January this year Skype released a number of WiFi and Internet phones at CES. The NETGEAR Skype WiFi Phone is a good current example.
Wide open market
Michael Arrington wrote an interesting post about all the new VoIP phone services popping up currently:
"But a new crop of companies have a launched that are trying to let people make free or cheap VOIP calls from a normal POTS (plain old telephone service) phone (often a cell phone) to another POTS phone. If someone gets it right, thereÄôs a huge market out there to destroy. The problem is that no one has gotten it right. And the mass market wonÄôt adopt these services until they are dead simple to use."
What's most interesting to me about Rebtel and Jajah is that they both are potentially disruptive services to the traditional telecoms industry, a la Skype a year or two ago. Of course Skype and Vonage are also in that category. But the point is it's still wide open, because nobody has yet made VoIP super-easy to use on normal phones (landline or mobile).
As a side note, Index Ventures now has investments in FON (a WiFi sharing network), Skype and Rebtel. A nice little combo there.
Not simple enough... yet
Jajah packed and ready for action at DEMO
Not everyone agrees that the new lot of VoIP services is hard to use. But to me the process still seems a little intimidating for 'normal' users. For example here's how Jajah's Frederik Hermann explained to me process for Jajah Mobile:
"How it works - in short, you go to the Jajah site, look to see if your phone is currently supported - the first phones supported are Symbian based, like Nokia N70 and Java based such as the Nokia 6630 (J2ME). We are adding phones everyday and the software is done for many phones. [...] If your phone is supported, you pull down a small plugin. Your phone will then know that when you dial an international number, it will send the call through the Jajah "network" (you can change theses preferences if you wish and make only some calls, or all calls, go through Jajah)."
It may be a one-off set-up process, but it certainly hasn't got that "You've got mail!" simplicity to it... yet. But then breaking a disruptive technology into the market is never easy! So I'm betting that one of these current crop of startups does disrupt the telecoms market, if only because I'd back Index Ventures' track record on this any day :-)