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Rich Tehrani, Group Publisher One Less Wire

President and Group Publisher

[November 9, 1999]

Enhanced Services: Grabbing A Slice Of The Telecom Pie

In my last column titled "Streaming Voice Mail: Service Provider Goldmine." I requested that service providers, especially ILECs provide us with streaming voicemail instead of boring, plain vanilla voicemail. This is the best way I surmised for them to lock in their customers and prevent turnover as new competitors come into their market.

I must have struck a nerve with this column because I received an unprecedented number of responses, some of which from companies that supply web based unified messaging products. In a recent conversation with Evan Koblentz who writes the CTI@Home column for TMCnet.com, he thinks there are over 100 web based unified messaging providers. Here are excerpts of two of the most interesting letters regarding unified messaging services I received and some analysis of each service.

Mr. Tehrani,

Just saw your article on TMCnet.com. Your sister publication (INTERNET TELEPHONY) just did a piece on our service, ThinkLink, and its role in meeting the UM needs for CLECs like ICG.

We are building a massively scalable free unified messaging system using VoIP Technology that will be a perfect add-on as the telecomm game gets more and more complex and competitive.

ThinkLink provides free voicemail, over the Internet (or over the telephone), without delays or downloads. It plays as a wave or real audio file directly in the user's browser.

We are currently in final beta testing, providing local and 800 numbers in four cities (and 800 numbers to customers nationally). We will launch with national service in the next few months.

Dan Cohen
Marketing Manager

I do think that ThinkLink is a great service and is packed with features such as follow me (with call screening), paging alert when new messages arrive, fax forwarding and more. Sure enough this service works as advertised and voicemail messages are downloaded quickly as highly compressed WAV files. This service is awesome and I can't wait until they have a POP in my area so I can have local number access to this service.

Dear Rich,

I wanted to give you an update as to where our company is now in light of your most recent article One Less Wire. In July our company introduced CentreOne the world's first phone to PC, PC to phone and phone to phone calling service.

In short, our system allows streaming voice mail! Here's how it works: Our service is composed of two parts: Enhanced services (which provides one number that simultaneously rings to three numbers and includes voice messaging, fax messaging, caller ID, call conferencing etc.) The second component is the ability to have one of the three numbers as a computer. This means that when someone is calling you, that call will be routed to you through the Internet (utilizing NetMeeting 3.0) to your computer or laptop. If you are on line you have the choice to 1 connect to talk, 2 put them into voice messaging or 3 to hang up on them. If you are not connected when the call comes in, you can connect later and listen to your messages, forward them etc.

Not only do you therefore get live streaming voice mail, you get a complete communications system but you can also use this same account (either through a phone or through Net Meeting) to make calls anywhere in the world.

What separates our service from others is we have developed and patented a way to apply unified messaging functionality through the Internet. Therefore instead of just ringing to three PSTN lines, the "one-number" can now ring through to a computer connected to the Internet. The implication of this is enormous. For example - when you travel to San Diego for the Internet Telephony EXPO next week and you have a laptop, computer connected to the Internet or soon a PDA connected through wireless), someone in Connecticut can dial your "one number" locally and reach your computer where ever you are. Since the local call is free on the inbound, you could talk from San Diego to Connecticut for as long you would like and this call is free. Of course since next week will be hectic, you may not always be able to take the call through your computer. If this is the case the caller will be put into voice mail. At anytime, thereafter you can connect to your message center through the Internet and receive your voice mail.

With our service we truly converge all communication points: PC to Phone and Phone to multiple Phone (which others have done) and Phone to PC (which only we have done!)

Best Regards,

Doug Sprague
CentreCom, Inc.

CentreCom's service is indeed packed full of features and seems fully functional. Currently, the two interfaces that are employed are Microsoft NetMeeting or telephone based. In about two weeks I am told a web-based interface will emerge and I suspect that it will be the user friendly interface choice. I agree that the ability to forward calls to Internet telephony clients is a tremendous differentiation and gives subscribers more flexibility in how they deal with their communications.

It is becoming readily apparent that the enhanced services market is not only for companies that are providing telephone service. And judging from these letters, other service providers are edging their way into the market by providing enhanced services such as unified messaging and Internet telephony, call forwarding as a way to attract customers. CentreCom and ThinkLink are just two examples proving the possibility of having a slice of the huge telecom pie without any needed tremendous cash outlays to provide full-fledged worldwide telephone service.

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