Call In Your E-mail

On-call doctors have long relied on telephones and paging services to communicate with nurses and hospital staff when not on site. For today's mobile professionals, similar pagers and cell phone services suffice for voice exchanges, but e-mail and the Internet have become essential. Bridging the worlds of telephone messaging and e-mail is Ibyphone, a new service that lets you call in e-mail to be typed and sent by an Ibyphone operator.

Announced yesterday by XAct Telesolutions, the Ibyphone service sends text e-mail from any phone without the use of a computer or handheld device. Subscribers to the service dial a toll-free number, provide their personal identification number, and then dictate messages to a live operator who can send the messages instantaneously to individuals or groups. The message appears as if it were sent from a regular e-mail account. Ibyphone's address book feature lets users group e-mail contacts so they could call in and simply say, "Send to the management team."

Free for the first month, the service is offered in four price packages from US$9.95 to $99.95 depending on use. Currently Ibyphone is a send-only service, but in four months, subscribers will be able to receive e-mail, and within a year the company expects to offer broader Internet services. For example, subscribers will be able to call in for weather reports, the score of the game, or to make hotel reservations.

Operator, Type Carefully, Please

The system is "attempting to bring the power of the Internet straight to the telephone," according to Dan Joseph, XAct's cofounder and chief executive officer. A key benefit of Ibyphone is having operators who harness "the power of people as intermediaries between humans and technology," Joseph says. The operators work to eliminate errors by reading back dictated messages before sending them.

In this age of spam, cookies, and caller ID comes the question of privacy. Joseph says the company hasn't faced any negative reaction on the issue, and he ensures that the operators are screened and monitored. XAct plans to issue bonding certificates to its Ibyphone operators as a commitment to security and privacy.

Joseph stresses that Ibyphone is not "a replacement for voice mail or at-your-desk e-mail. It is designed for the on-the-go professional and is tailored for them." He says the company plans to partner with portals and wireless service providers.

Deviceless in an Age of Gadgets

Ibyphone is not the first to try to bridge voice mail with e-mail and the Internet. Olympus, among others, offers a digital voice recorder and voice recognition software, while Softlink's E-Mail VoiceLink lets you send voice messages by e-mail. Smart mobile phones, such as InfoGear's iPhone, are starting to offer wireless Web connections and e-mail capabilities. And already, handheld Palm Pilots and Windows CE devices -- extremely popular among on-the-go professionals -- provide some mobile data connectivity.

But unlike these devices, Ibyphone works on the outsource model and requires no hardware purchase or complex setup. Although Ibyphone may fill in a temporary niche for sending e-mail from a phone, its target audience, the mobile professional, is the very group so rapidly buying up gadgets that keep them typing and not talking.

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