Goin’ Mobile: VoxOx Launches iPhone App with International Calling Feature

4/29/11Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego-based VoxOx, which provides a free communications service based on voice over Internet (VoIP) technology, hopes to make a big splash today with the release of its VoxOx Call for iPhone—the startup’s first mobile app.

When VoxOx debuted three years ago, users could download a free application to their desktop, enabling consumers to combine their voice, text messaging, social media, chat, email, fax, and content sharing into a unified service with a single user interface. VoxOx has added some new features since then, such as a low-cost technique for placing international calls and a “translator in the cloud” for translating things like text messages and emails. The company introduced a fully redesigned version of its desktop software in January at the Consumer Electronics Show that was intended to simplify its user interface and main messaging window.

Now, with the launch of its iPhone app, VoxOx is looking to capitalize on the “call connect” feature of its VoIP service to enable iPhone users to make low-cost long-distance calls from anywhere in the world. As I explained last year, the technology uses SMS (text messaging) technology to access an automated, cloud-based system that connects the caller and receiver without incurring international charges for placing the call.

VoxOx boasts that its mobile app does the same thing—without drawing heavily on a user’s mobile data plan—and includes a digital recording and transcription service, two-way worldwide text messaging, automated call forwarding, and other features.

The iPhone market has become so huge that it’s kind of a no-brainer for telephony companies to address the iOS market sooner or later. Because the iOS accounts for something like 16 percent of the smartphone operating system market and close to 60 percent of mobile web consumption in North America, it’s something that VoxOx needs to do to stay relevant. It’s also not the only mobile app that VoxOx has in the works.

“We will definitely have something new for our Android users; we just don’t have one today,” says Matt Howell, the VoxOx director of product management.

VoxOx is operated by San Diego’s Telcentris, which apparently altered its name from TelCentris last year, as a free service for consumers. Telcentris owns a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier business that provides voice and data services and enables TelCentris to collect money for each inbound call that comes into its system from outside networks. Telcentris also generates revenue by providing its Web-based communications service to small telephone companies and providing its hosted switchboard service to small and medium businesses.

The big challenge for VoxOx, as it has been all along, is differentiating itself from much larger rivals, such as Google Voice and Skype. And the big question, which also has been there from the beginning, is whether a startup competitor can get enough oxygen with Google and Skype in the space.

VoxOx spokeswoman Natasha Grach says the company’s closest mobile app competitor is Google Voice. As a much-smaller rival, Grach says VoxOx is trying to distinguish itself by emphasizing certain features that VoxOx is offering its mobile app users, such as faxing, 20-party conference calls, and “on the fly” digital recording.

It is far more difficult to compare phone rates, however.

“While rates fluctuate regularly, we tend to have lower per minute rates than Google Voice in a number of regions for international calling,” she says. “With respect to Skype,” Grach says, “it’s a bit of a more complicated calculation, but even more so in our favor. For example, we know that many of our country rates are lower and our U.S./Canada monthly unlimited plan is 15 percent lower, however Skype also charges for a phone number, caller ID, and other similar services, whereas we don’t.”

Although VoxOx doesn’t have a chart that compares rates, Grach offers offered this information about the company’s rates:

—$0.01 per minute in more than 20 countries, including the United States, Canada, U.K., Spain, Singapore, and China.

—$0.02 per minute in more than 30 countries, including Greece, Argentina, Italy, South Korea, and Japan.

—$0.02 to $0.05 per minute in more than 50 countries, including India, Russia, South Africa, Chile, Indonesia.

She notes that VoxOx users are charged for both legs of its long-distance callback service, since the company is using its system to place two inbound calls. So, for example, a user who uses the VoxOx mobile app to call Singapore from the U.S. would pay 1 penny per minute for VoxOx to place a call to the caller and 1 penny per minute to call the other party in Singapore. So the call would total 2 cents per minute.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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