SAN FRANCISCO (05/02/2000) - Tired of getting nickel-and-dimed by your phone company's monthly surcharges? EVoice Inc. could save you hundreds of dollars a year with free voice mail for your existing telephone line.
On Tuesday EVoice begins offering a free nationwide voice-messaging service to anyone willing to listen to 10- to 15-second advertisements before retrieving messages left on home or business telephone lines. EVoice also forwards voice messages to any e-mail address as RealAudio sound file attachments.
The company plans to compete with everyone from Pacific Bell and US West to Bell Atlantic, which charge as much as $8 a month for comparable services--not to mention one-time installation fees of approximately $20.
EVoice connects you to voice messages through a toll-free number and through its password-protected Web site. You can have new voice-mail alerts sent to your pager. You also can set up nine different "voice-mail boxes" for each phone line, which means private messages can be left for multiple parties at one number.
EVoice identifies incoming phone numbers and doubles as an Internet call-waiting service, alerting you to incoming calls if you're surfing on a primary phone line.
A growing number of companies are targeting elements of what is called "telephony-based messaging" or the "Web talk" market, says Dana Thorat, senior research analyst with IDC. Competing Net-based voice-mail services include Onebox.com, BuzMe, and ThinkLink. These services, however, require messages be sent to separate phone numbers. EVoice is the only free service that works with existing phone numbers.
Scott Milener, EVoice spokesperson, estimates that EVoice could save the 20 million U.S. voice-mail subscribers the $2 billion paid to Baby Bells for voice mail each year. "We don't see a reason for people to pay for something they can get for free," he says.
"There are a lot of people jumping into the Web talk space," Thorat says.
"EVoice looks to be a front-runner." EVoice and competitors alike could pressure Baby Bells to lower voice-mail service charges, she adds.
Free, But Not Free of Hassles
In an informal test, EVoice lacked some of the functionality offered by Bell Atlantic.
EVoice doesn't provide you with a "staggered" dial tone or flashing light indicating a message is waiting. Personalized greetings are limited to your name only.
On several occasions it took voice mail more than 24 hours to be left on the EVoice message system. EVoice says these errors were early glitches that have been ironed out.
EVoice doesn't work with private branch exchange phone numbers, nor does it work with the estimated 8 percent of U.S. phone lines that are managed by what are called competitive local exchange carriers.
EVoice hopes to grow its voice-mail business by offering a host of premium services. Look for EVoice to add a feature that lets you listen to a message and press a button for an instant call-back service. EVoice may also offer an ad-free version of the service and one-button connections to advertisers.