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Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

Staying in touch with loved ones on Valentine’s Day

Posted by talkster on February 14, 2008

By Maria Puccio
Marketing Manager at Talkster

It’s Valentine’s Day, a time when everyone’s thoughts turn to love, relationships, flowers and in my case – chocolate!

But here at Talkster, since communications are what we do, and most of our time is spent assuring that people can communicate easily and seamlessly, Valentine’s Day makes us reflect on our users (I like to call them “talksters”) and how they keep up with loved ones who are far away.

We’ve had lots of people write us to say that Talkster has helped them stay in touch with a long-distance loved one – be it a boyfriend, girlfriend, parent or sibling – by giving them the opportunity to call more often and feel closer to that person. We are always pleased to get those comments and notes because it shows us that people are using Talkster and liking it.

Patrick wrote to tell us that after having lived in Berlin for a over a year, he made lots of friends there, and now uses Talkster all the time to stay in touch now that he’s back in Australia.

But one of my favorite notes is from Catherine, who writes:

“I found this on Facebook, and honestly thought this was too good to be true… that there had to be some catch.

I looked into it as much as possible, read up on some reviews, and realized this might just be legit.

So someone extremely special to me lives in London, while I’m in the US. I haven’t heard his voice in over 3 months, and can’t see him for another 5. I prayed that this would work, because it would truly be a dream.

So I dialed, got the number to call….the phone is ringing…and he answers. My heart skipped a beat. We were able to talk for multiple hours.

I love this service, and thank you so much. You offer a truly amazing service that has given me the best Christmas present I could ever ask for. I got to hear the voice of the one I love again, thanks to Talkster.”

Since so many talksters are in long distance relationships, I was curious to know more about long distance relationships and communication. I did a bit of research to see what the experts say.

According to relationship expert Dr. Laura Berman, in her article, “Long-distance love: How to make it fly”, communication is essential.

Dr. Berman outlines how one of the problems long distance relationships face is not knowing where the person on the other end is, not being able to reach them and then worrying about what they’re up to. Dr. Berman’s solution to this is to always agree on a time when you are going to call each other.

“When your partner is miles away, it is easy to jump to conclusions when he doesn’t answer his phone….Even after you find out the truth (he was taking a nap and didn’t hear his phone), the stress and anxiety you created during those incommunicado hours have already taken their toll,” Berman says. “To avoid this problem in the future, agree on a time when you and your partner will call each other, no matter what comes up. Pick a time that is convenient for both of you, whether it is first thing in the morning or on your respective lunch breaks. Keep your phone date at all times, and if you must break it, be sure your partner knows ahead of time.”

Another problem Dr. Berman addresses that can arise in long distance relationships is loneliness. Dr. Berman’s solution is to “stay connected”. One way to do this is to find “a free online telephone service that lets you call land lines and cell phones all over the world”, Berman says.

And if you’re not in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is a great time to get in touch with friends or family and remind them that they’re important to you too. May from Toronto is planning a big Talkster conference call, where she can speak to family members in Vancouver, Hong Kong and mainland China all at once. Now that’s pretty sweet!

Wherever you are, and whomever you’re calling, Talkster wishes you a Happy Valentine’s Day! Stay in touch!

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Cheap calls – doing the math

Posted by talkster on January 18, 2008

By James Wanless
COO of Talkster

An interesting post this week from our friend Luca Filigheddu comparing Talkster to a number of other (VoIP) services prompted me to put on my blogging hat. The services Luca compared were categorized as VoIP services but to a user of these services it’s not VoIP that makes it as interesting, rather it’s the cheap price.

Luca wrote a very good subjective piece that leads into a broader discussion about the cost of a call and the attempts to make it ever cheaper.

I have often heard it said that quality counts and at a certain point, trying to shave off a cent here and there on the cost of the call substantially reduces the quality. If you can’t shave the cost then how does a business create margin? If they give away calls between their users (calls that costs one of these businesses money) how do they in the long term make any money? We can all wait for the Skype/eBay acquisition fairy to come and visit us one night, but let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen.

In our experience (even long before starting Talkster) there’s nothing like free to acquire customers. Don’t get me wrong; you still have to give an acceptable level of quality, but free definitely “sells.” But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if something is free if its quality is sketchy.

Also, adding value (e.g. convenience, new features) to the call allows a voice service to differentiate its “free” service over the next company’s “more free” offer. Talkster has some things up our sleeve in this regard as well, but I am going to save that for another day. :-)

I’ve written it many times here and discussed at length in interviews and at industry speaking opportunities – – Someone has to pay for free calls. Talkster believes that when we balance the issues of credit control (especially outside North America) with the minimal margins that cheap calls generate, our ad-supported model is the way forward for consumers. Advertisers pay for calls on the Talkster service. Because they pay for the call, we can ensure we are delivering the quality people expect when they place calls.

JaJah made an announcement about an ad-supported beta offering well after we launched our service at the CTIA show, and it certainly seems to be a bandwagon that a number of other companies are jumping on.

Advertising seems like an easy play but recognize that beyond the technical issues there are some fundamentals that need consideration. For example, advertising becomes annoying if it’s not relevant. Do I really want to listen to a commercial for discount car insurance for seniors if I am a 20 year old university student with nothing but a public transit pass? The answer is no.

If it’s targeted and relevant an ad becomes an offer. When an ad is regarded as an offer by the consumer on the receiving end, they no longer view it as obnoxious and are more likely to engage with it.

Equally, the advertisers need to reach the right audience in order to increase brand awareness, inquiries and ultimately sales of their products or services. Beyond targeting, to maximize the effectiveness of a campaign there can be “calls to action” within the advertising channel that allow callers to interact with an ad and bring immediacy to an offer.

At Talkster, our team has individuals with more than 30 years (yes, some of us – not me — are that old) of direct marketing experience and know how to make this work. Being able to effectively communicate the offer and deliver the mechanism to close the sale is at the core of what we have developed for advertisers.

For now we are satisfied to be recognized in the same pool as a number of VoIP players. But in the near future, we will be viewed in another light as we build on our Ad Supported Communications Platform and extend our reputation as more than just another cheap or free phone call.

Posted in Perspective, Talkster News | 10 Comments »

Bringing families together for the Holidays

Posted by talkster on December 19, 2007

Holiday JamesIt’s that time of year again where if you (like me and many others I know) have family spread around the globe you figure out how you can possibly get everyone together in one place at one time or else you spend the whole holiday season driving and flying from place to place to see them all. For the record, when I have grandchildren, I expect everyone to travel to me!

Joking aside, it’s tough to get one’s entire family in one place to catch-up on all that happens while we are apart. It doesn’t matter which time of the year it is, the family news gets passed from one person to another in a series of one-on-one conversations as the phone is passed around from person to person. This year will be different though. The Talkster family is very proud to play a part in connecting families this holiday season with our “Talkster Free World Dialing” service we launched this past October. With Talkster’s Free World Dialing friends and families can set up group calls with up to five other people from around the world.

It’s really easy to use and best of all the calls are free! All you do is go to the Talkster site from your PC or mobile phone, enter the names and numbers of the people that you want in the group call and each of them is assigned a local number to call to join the conversation.

When we built Talkster’s Free World Dialing we knew it had to be easy to use, even for people who don’t have a computer. This means when it’s time to make our family group conference call, I don’t have to rely on my old Uncle to remember what time the family call is going to start. All I do is dial the local number, record a short message telling my family to all to get on the line so we can chat and Talkster does the rest. Each of my family members gets a call from Talkster where they hear my short recorded message. They hang up the phone and dial in to their local Talkster number. Once they have connected, we are joined together. We all listen to a 10-second targeted audio ad that fully subsidizes the cost of our call, and then we can talk as long as we want.

It doesn’t matter if all of my family members don’t all call into our group call at exactly the same moment. They can join at any time the call is in progress. We can talk for as long as we like and people can come and go as they please.

This year there’s less traveling needed yet my family and yours can still share their news and good wishes together. I know nothing is as nice as being there, sitting around the table together with loved ones; but Talkster is a good alternative to keep families connected when you can’t all be in the same place at the same time.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us in the Talkster family.

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EU Roaming Mandates take effect – HIGHER COSTS!

Posted by talkster on August 29, 2007

By James Wanless
COO of Talkster

Yes, I did write higher costs. While everyone was basking in the sunshine feeling happy about the EU’s recently enacted mandates to lower roaming charges that would let European vacationers call home from the beach in Spain for 49 Euro Cents and receive calls for 24 cents or less, there is one little detail that has been missed: for many operators the cost of a call within the country you are roaming has actually gone up! I have posted on this topic before, and this result is not entirely what I expected.

The EU mandate was to lower the cost of calling home and receiving calls while roaming. But the EU regulation left open a very large door into which many mobile operators have stepped – in country call rates. The unfortunate thing for people traveling in Europe is that your operator is not inclined to share these new rates with you. So in order to find the truth, I did some grassroots research on my own.

I did some digging with Belgian and UK Operators and here is what I found. With the Belgian Operator BASE, when you are roaming in the UK and want to make a call home to Belgium the old price of about 1 Euro has been changed to 49 cents. That’s great. But now, should you want to make a call in the UK (for example call a restaurant, hotel, local office, customers, etc .etc.) it used to cost you 28 cents a minute. But with the new EU roaming mandate, the cost is now 49 cents a minute – nearly double!

The other big money spinner is the cost of sending an SMS. 54 cents to send an SMS is a HUGE mark-up over the wholesale costs. And if you want to use the mobile internet or get your email? Euro 5.50 per megabyte.

There was a lot of talk about where the operators were going to make up the lost revenue from their roaming cash cow. I think that I have discovered some of them.

Here is a useful link to the official EU roaming site with further links to the individual operators (often outdated) sites on individual roaming costs http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/roaming/implementation/benchmark/index_en.htm

Talkster of course has been working to help people using mobile phones to keep their roaming and long distance costs in check. We are on the cusp of unveiling our new service that will mitigate a lot of these roaming costs. Stay tuned for our announcement this Fall when we take the wrapper off our new service. We now know that roaming Europeans will LOVE it!

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Roaming caps on calls – will business finally get a break?

Posted by talkster on May 18, 2007

By James Wanless
President and COO of Talkster

For a long time business users who travel frequently have been enduring the price of high roaming charges. A recent vote by the European parliament could finally mean this inflated pricing will come to an end. This week the parliament decided on roaming caps for both wholesale rates between operators (what the mobile carriers can charge each other for users who roam onto their networks) and retail caps (what those carriers can charge to their end customers).

The maximum wholesale rate will be €0.30 (approx $0.41). This rate will drop by 2 cents per year for 3 years.

The maximum retail rate will be €0.49 ($0.66) for calls made and €0.24 ($0.33) for calls received. These caps will fall too. Calls made will fall by 3 cents per year and incoming calls will fall by 2 cents after the first year and 3 cents after the second year.

To add a little intrigue to the whole process, consumers will not be automatically opted-in for these new rates for the first 3-months. After that 3-month period, they will automatically be switched over to the new tariffs whether they request it or not.

This makes absolutely no sense. Why would someone NOT want cheaper rates for the same phone calls? It seems that politics and lobbying play a role in all of these decisions.

For the operators it means that the all important summer holiday season in Europe will still offer one last chance to cream some profit before the caps come into effect.

Note that this vote is not yet legislation but it will be put in front of the EU parliament later this month for final approval and is expected to pass. Even after it passes, it will not likely be implemented until the end of the summer and even then there will be 3 more months before everyone gets the lower rates.

Seems clear? Not really. Tariffs will still exist where there will be a difference in the cost of calls made to various destinations. For example, if I am a UK user roaming in Spain, and I call back to the UK, will the cost be the same as if I make a call in Spain? The intention was that the cost of the call in Spain (the roaming country) would be cheaper than the cost of the call home. Unfortunately, we will have to wait to see the actual tariffs. I will be reporting back on that one when the operators have had a chance to craft their new plans based on these imposed caps.


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Wholesale Roaming Rates Capped

Posted by talkster on March 13, 2007

By James Wanless
President and COO of Talkster

Roaming rates are on their way down as I have posted before.

Today these efforts got a boost from the UK House of Lords. It seems like wholesale roaming rates between operators will be capped at 30 Euro cents. A retail price cap was not proposed at this time but it is obvious that this is (to use the British Navy term) a shot across the bows of the mobile operators. In other words – – Bring retail pricing into line, or else.

Jo Best at Silicon.com summed it up, well, Best!


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Gizmo Aggregates Voice over IM – Just Like Talkster

Posted by talkster on March 2, 2007

There was news from E-Tel this week from SIPPHONE and the Gizmo Project announcing that together they now make it possible to place a call from the Gizmo client on a PC to other PC-based Instant Messenger clients such as MSN, Google Talk and Yahoo. The announcement garnered coverage and comments from folks like Om, Rich and Tom.

Federating is where 2 or more networks make an agreement to allow users from one network to communicate with another. This is what Google has pioneered through the use of open standards and to a lesser extent what AOL and MSN did by creating a bridge between their closed networks. Federation between the major players like Yahoo and AOL for text instant messaging has been a slow process with no immediate prospect of inter-network voice connectivity. Without federation these VoIP (and VoIM) islands are getting bigger and yet no closer. Gizmo has taken a good step forward in bridging these islands from the desktop, similar to what Talkster is doing from the mobile phone, as we announced back in October of last year.

While Gizmo enables Gizmo users to call from the Gizmo client on a PC, Talkster has taken this capability and extended it out to the mobile handset in support of our belief that users should not have to be sitting in front of their computer to make VoIM calls. So for the last 6-months, Talkster users with an ordinary mobile phone (no PC or broadband required), have been able to call their Google Talk, Gizmo and MSN buddies from anywhere.

We at Talkster are acutely aware of this concept of communication islands. During our current beta phase we have shown our capability to connect to public voice over instant messenger networks. Much of this work involved codec transcoding and signalling. As we move forward to our end goal of a complete communications solution for the Enterprise, the VoIM "island mentality" becomes less significant. Connectivity to public IM networks will always play a role, but to us they serve as a proxy for how Enterprise users communicate. In the Enterprise world, standards based instant messaging (XMPP) and voice (SIP based IP PBX) communications are controlled through policy. The use of open standards removes the need for technical trickery and places the focus more on the appropriate permissions to allow communications between different networks.

These permissions exist on two levels. The first is within an organization and determines who is able to see the presence of whom and therefore, is able to place calls through the VOIP network. The second is peering. Will company “A” allow VOIP calls and IM traffic to flow directly to company “B” and vice versa? The management of policies to determine such permissions and the tools necessary to implement them are areas that consume Talkster’s focus.

The bottom line is that open standards are absolutely the way forward, and we applaud the Gizmo Projects’ success in adding the Yahoo component to its PC-based service. It’s been well proven with the PSTN and email paradigm. Let’s hope that island mentality doesn’t stifle the future of open communications.


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A Vonage buy-out of Talkster?

Posted by talkster on February 8, 2007

By James Wanless
President and COO of Talkster

I’m not one to gossip, but there is a rumour floating around the Internet that VoIP luminary Vonage may be looking to acquire a company that can add “new, rich” features for their customers, and one such company is Talkster. Is the rumour true? I cannot comment on any discussions Talkster may or may not be having with Vonage, even if we were having them. ;-)

The possibility that Talkster (along with our friends at Iotum) could be a Vonage acquisition target was raised in an article from TheDeal.com – “Clock Ticks for Internet Telephony Provider Vonage,” (that also ran in Law.com and posted on blogs).  In the days that followed this initial post, there has been a growing buzz in the blogosphere about Vonage seeking to buy Talkster as a fast way to better serve its’ customer base by offering new, innovative, add-on services. The buzzing probably started first with article from Voxilla – “Is Vonage On The Prowl” which was followed by this blog post in VC Ratings.

Needless to say, I have spoken to a number of people about this rumour. While the idea has some merit, we have an easier way for Vonage to offer “new, rich” Talkster-like services to their customers. Vonage could quickly integrate our technology and service components into their network and take mobility for Vonage subscribers to a level far beyond the simple access numbers – something similar to a calling card access number – they have today.

The Talkster service is built on a network that can be used by any 3rd party service provider to create new and innovative services that easily integrate into their existing network infrastructure.

Not to introduce yet another acronym, but we at Talkster think of it as NAAS or "Network as a Service". The underlying instant messaging, voice over instant messaging and SIP infrastructure that supports the Talkster service is wrapped up in Web Services and can be controlled from any 3rd party interface that can communicate via the Internet. The idea of web services is not new. It’s a real enabler which is shared by a number of companies including Amazon which has an entire Web Services program championed by Jeff Barr and an elastic computing initiative which allows their network of computer hardware to be provisioned and controlled through web services. Iotum also believes strongly in the idea that web services are an enabler for creating cross platform, network and service opportunities.

Talkster will be many things, including a provider of Network as a Service (NAAS), for all manner of service providers in the market who can benefit from the many pieces of the Voice 2.0 communications puzzle that we have to offer – – all without the need for them to know anything about communications networks. If you want to know more, please feel free to contact me directly.

And as for Vonage, we’re ready to help. We’re also ready to help Packet8, ConnectMe Mobile and any other VoIP provider looking to enhance their mobility services and make them globally available. I’ll discuss rumours that we’re helping these companies in future blog posts.


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Will Free Calls be strong-armed out of business?

Posted by talkster on February 7, 2007

With the closure of FuturePhone as highlighted in an article on GigaOm this morning, it seems like the end is near for the “free” calling companies. AT&T is going to challenge them, or rather the Local Exchange Carriers enabling them, in court. Inevitably, this will take time, but likely will stop “free calling companies” as the payments are withheld until everyone has their day in court. That’s not to mention the (prohibitive) legal cost of defending against such lawsuites which the LECs and the free calling providers are not prepared to do.

This however is not a new situation. Back in the early 1990s AT&T were themselves enabling a similar type of business model. It was called International Settlement and was a means for AT&T to balance out the payments they paid to telcos (often monopolies) in countries like Italy against fees which Italy paid to them. There was a huge imbalance which meant that AT&T paid out much larger amounts to these foreign telcos on a monthly basis and these same foreign telcos had no incentive to renegotiate the rates which AT&T were pushing down at home.

What AT&T quietly did was to let some service providers have numbers in the US which they would on which they would share revenue. Starting to sound familiar? You would pay the equivalent of $1 in Italy to call the US number to listen to your horoscope, football scores, chat etc. etc. AT&T would get their portion of the revenue and share it with the service provider. Now the traffic from Italy started to flow back to the US in much larger numbers and it meant that AT&T was paying out less to the foreign telcos. Italy was just one example.

This practice happened in scores of countries. In some cases, the foreign telco would actually have to pay money to AT&T instead, in effect forcing them back to the negotiating table to talk about reducing rates. Once that happened, the rates were reduced to a point that the shared revenue model would no longer be attractive to the service providers and this flow of "other traffic" for entertainment would disappear.

It was a VERY smart move by AT&T and ultimately a great business. It drove down international calling costs, provided incentive to bring everyone to the table for bi-lateral rate negotiations and ultimately benefited AT&Ts subscribers. I wonder if the LECs in Iowa and Nevada have a similar plan to use this as a bargaining chip for something else they want? It will be interesting to watch it play out.

As I have said before, someone has to pay for phone calls. It’s not free to provide the service and it seems in this case AT&T was the one to pay.


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The Great Race (to Zero)

Posted by talkster on December 8, 2006

By James Wanless
President and COO of Talkster

I had an interesting conversation today with Pat Phelan about the tons of free stuff that has been hitting the market, in particular free phone calls. Free to call Poland this weekend. Free calls on Christmas Day (didn’t anyone mention that not ALL people celebrate Christmas!). Free month of service. Free. Free. Free. What is this doing to the market?

Of course, the customer will like free for as long as the quality survives, but herein lies the problem.

Transporting calls costs money. Real money. If you want quality (calls connect quickly, on the first try and you recognize the voice of the person on the other end) then you have to pay. Users love free but they won’t tolerate poor quality.

If one company offers calls at 2 cents a minute today and its competitor offers 1 cent a minute tomorrow only to be followed by another company which proclaims “Call for free!”, where’s the business sense in that? If a business model is to acquire customers with free calls (a “loss leader” to use the correct term) so it can be bought out for a $100 million – I’m sorry to say, but it’s not going to happen. Even Skype had a revenue model.

Something to ponder. If company #1 gives you something for free, what is your perceived value of this “something”? Similarly, what will you expect tomorrow when company #1 has gone out of business and company #2 wants to offer you this same “something”. Are you going to be willing to pay for it or will you likewise expect it for free? Talkster is staying out of the “Great Race to Zero” in the consumer market.

As we move from our beta to our v1.0 of our enterprise mobility product next year, we are focusing on bringing to market a communications service built on an enterprise-grade infrastructure. We believe, and those who have previewed the service agree, that our service will be of value to the enterprise. If our service not only addresses the needs of the enterprise and individual business users, but remains consistent, reliable and of high quality, then enterprises and individuals will be willing to pay for it.

Based on our conversations with enterprises, potential channel partners, industry analysts and pundits, we strongly believe Talkster is creating something innovative and important for the enterprise. But we won’t know for sure until our service is released. What we do know for sure is that the enterprise is not keen to experiment. They need to trust that the service they buy today will be available to them tomorrow, one year from tomorrow and so on for as long as they need the service.

The enterprise isn’t looking for free. They are looking for quality and longevity. That makes the goal of winning the race to zero a fool’s paradise.


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