How big do you need to be before you think about making voice calls over the internet? Even small companies can benefit, according to entrepreneur Nick Ogden, who launched On Instant, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service this week.
Ogden, founder of internet payments system WorldPay and online mall BarclaySquare, has funded the business himself because he believes in the technology. And because he can afford to -- WorldPay was sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2002 for ?40 million. VoIP enables voice calls to be turned into packets of data that can be sent over the internet without tying up a phone line. But it is not just about cutting call costs. If voice is transmitted at the same time as data, new applications become possible.
One convert to VoIP is Terry Coutanche, founder of Coutanche Solutions. He has been using On Instant for the past two months to manage nearly two dozen IT staff in America, Australia and Ukraine.
"Calls to staff are now free," says Coutanche. Previously, most of the contact was by e-mail, but often a phone conversation is more useful. You can get an answer straightaway and you can even record calls. Or you can send voicemails to each other, which some people find faster to compose than e-mail.
On Instant, which is aimed at small businesses, costs from ?4 to ?15 per person per month. The service includes internet-based contact management software, map-based business directory and press release distribution software, with VoIP as the glue that sticks it all together.
The contact manager enables a hurried business person to make a note of any follow-up action they have promised a customer. They will get a reminder when they switch on their PC that day.
To use On Instant, businesses need to download the software and plug a PC headset with integrated microphone into their PC or laptop computer, or buy an IP phone. They can then call anyone registered with the service for "free" -- or no extra cost. To use the software, they will also need fairly new PCs running Windows 2000 or XP and a broadband internet connection, such as ADSL or cable.
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