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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hey, I can't talk. I have multiple blogs. 

Over a year ago, I talked (twice) about a number of dating sites, all run by the same company (Zencon Technologies): Cali People Meet, LDS Planet, Republican People Meet, etc.

Recently one of my co-workers asked us to look at VOIPStunt:

Free* phone calls all around the world: Download the free VoipStunt application.

Simply click the download link below and save the installation file to your computer. After downloading, double click the installerfile and you are set to go. Make free* calls to all your online friends and regular phones in various popular destinations, or call any other number at the lowest rates around.

Of course, VOIPStunt is not the only company offering such services. For example, there's a company called VOIP Buster. And a different one called SIP Discount. And VOIP Cheap. And, last but not least, NetAppel:

Appeler gratuitement* dans le monde entier: Téléchargez Netappel!

Cliquez simplement sur le lien de téléchargement ci-dessous et sauvegardez l'installation sur votre ordinateur. Après le téléchargement, double cliquez sur le fichier d'installation et voila, vous pouvez commencer. Effectuez des appels gratuits* avec vos amis connectés et les téléphones fixes des destinations populaires ou appelez une autre destination aux tarifs les plus bas.

Fierce competition, innit? Not exactly:

VoIPBuster is just one of several VoIP offerings from reclusive Swiss Telecommunications company Finarea SA. With successful forays into the British and Swiss long-distance telephone market, Finarea SA have carved out what appears to be a growing niche in the online carriage of Voice communications. By openly offering what other companies may regards as risky (i.e., free calls) they've gained the attention of millions of people worldwide who have embraced the VoIPBuster softphone and similar applications from Finarea's other VoIP companies....

Initially, users of VoIPBuster could register and use VoIPBuster's services for free. On gaining popularity and in an effort claimed to counter misuse of their network, VoIPBuster began charging a registration fee for unlimited free calls to those selected countries. The registration fee started out at 1 Euro, changed to 5 Euro and now stands at 10 Euro (coincidently as they're undoubtedly enjoying a steady supply of visitors from search engines)....

Initially, when VoIPBuster entered the market, they were promoting in excess of 20 countries to which free calls could be made. At time of writing, this has reduced to 16 countries. Furthermore, once free calls are halted to a particular country, another Finarea VoIP company pops up to fill the void with free calls to that same country (once another registration fee has been paid to the new company)....

I initially signed up and paid the registration fee to join Finarea SA's SIPDiscount. At the time of joining, Australia was among the countries offered as a 'free' calling destination. However, as soon as I started making calls to Australia, the calls were in fact being charged (albeit at a nominal rate of 1 Euro c/min) despite their web site still claiming that the calls were free. Soon after, the SIPDiscount web site was amended to reflect the charging of calls to Australia. Since then, another Finarea offering has popped up by the name of VoIPStunt which is currently offering 'free' calls to Australia and 38 other countries. I suspect that the list of 39 free countries currently offered by VoIPStunt will eventually shrink and that another Finarea VoIP company will step in to quench the thirst of users looking for the next 'best deal'.

Ah, but the information above is already outdated:

Betamax VoIP Services

The Betamax group of VoIP services is made up of 11 apparently different companies. Many users do not realize that VoIPBuster, VoIPCheap.co.uk, Netappel, SIP Discount, Voipstunt, Sparvoip, Internetcalls, Voipdiscount, Poivy, Voipcheap.com and freecall.com are all part of the same group. A recent addition is also a Web activated VoIP service at www.webcalldirect.com....

Betamax GmbH & Co KG (www.betamax.com) is a company registered in Cologne, Germany.

In December 2005 it took over all of the VoIP services previously run by Finarea SA, and has since added a few more VoIP services. With one exception, all of these services offer the same features; the only difference seems to be in the rates charged to various destinations at any one time, and in the color scheme used on the web pages and soft phones.

There are some indications that Betamax might just be a front for Finarea which still operates traditional PSTN call-by-call services in a number of European and Asian countries....

Here is a list of services we are aware of; if you come across others, please send us an e-mail to info@myvoipprovider.com

These services provide a soft phone to use on your MS Windows PC, but also work with SIP devices and other softphones (as of May 3, there are instructions for configuring SIP devices on all of the websites):


http://www.voipcheap.co.uk (careful, different "free" list from voipcheap.com, and rates listed in Sterling Pence instead of Euro Cents!)
http://www.freecall.com (launched 29 June 2006)
http://www.voiparound.com (launched 29 June 2006)

Some of these services are also available with a different top-level domain, i.e. netappel.com is also available as netappel.fr, voipstunt.com is also available as voipstunt.de, etc.

The following service is geared specifically towards users of SIP devices and does NOT provide a softphone. It does require an MS Windows program though to register for the service. It will work with standard SIP softphones such as Firefly or X-Lite.


The following service requires an Internet Connection, a Web Browser, and a normal telephone; it is a web-activated callback service rather than a normal VoIP service (although it is probably implemented internally by VoIP):


...It seems that initially Finarea ran its own Asterisk servers offering SIP/IAX connectivity, they were located in different hosting centers across Europe (Colt Germany, Rackspace UK, etc). Shortly before the transfer to Betamax they started to consolidate all of their services on servers operated by TVIconnect BV, who are PSTN termination providers for callshops across Europe.

VoIP- IN Numbers
(09-July-06 - Note: It appears that Betamax may have suspended their free VoIP-IN numbers without warning for new customers in the past week. All references to VoIP-IN numbers have been removed from their provider sites. Can anybody confirm this or is this only temporary? Please send us an email if you have any further info.)

All of the Betamax VoIP providers offer free VoIP-IN numbers, which will allow others to phone you no matter where you are in the world. You will have to be resident in one of the countries on the list. If not you can still get a number if you provide an address in one of these countries when you sign up. Most important you will have to have a positve credit balance in your account before you are allocated a number.

The following countries are available for VoIP-IN numbers:

Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK. (Status 27 June 2006).

This list tends to change ( the same as their rates), so check the VoIP provider sites regularly if other countries become available. Austria and Latvia were recently removed from the list.

Maybe Betamax and Zencom will collaborate on a service called VOIPPeopleMeet.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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