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Internet Phone Claims Cheaper Long Distance Charges

By Jim Bray

People or businesses who like to reach out and touch distant friends, family, or offices have a new ally in the long distance phone rate wars.

Compro's Ezfone is a PC hardware and software solution that lets you use the Internet as your own, personal long distance carrier. The thing comes with two ISA cards and a pair of CD-ROM's, along with duplicate documentation and phone cables, so you and whomever you choose can take full advantage of cyberspace yakking.

And it works, though it should also be mentioned that you can make a lot of long distance phone calls for the $199US this unit costs!

Still, if you do a lot of calling to one particular party, especially overseas, Ezfone can pay for itself over the long run. And it may prove particularly beneficial for businesses who spend a lot of time communicating between distant branch offices.

Installation of the cards is easy, and the software setup is straightforward; and it's nice to see someone actually making use of the old ISA slots that, while they may technically be obsolete, are perfectly well suited to a task such as this.

Once you've configured the computer, you plug your regular touch tone phone into it and are off to the races.

Compro's press release claims that using the Ezfone is as easy as making regular telephone calls, but that's, well, a little too optimistic a view. Don't get me wrong; no special skills are required, but you do have to go through a dialup and connection process. And if the place you're calling isn't online at the time, you have to phone it first so they can log on and receive the Internet call.

Once you've done that you can hang up and use the 'Net, but you still have to make a short long distance call. It's not a big deal, but it's more complicated than just grabbing a handset and punching "speed dial".

When you're going through this "logging on" process, you're prompted (in real pidgin English!) to hang up your handset while the computers do whatever they do; then you get another message to pick up the receiver again. I found this a little clumsy, but it wouldn't be too bad once you're used to it.

Ezfone is full duplex (so you can interrupt each other), and the overall voice quality is fine. It doesn't sound as clean as a good local call, but I reckon it's comparable to an analogue cellular phone - somewhere between being crystal clear and sounding like you're inside a toilet bowl.

And while Ezfone is really meant to be used between two stations that have it installed, you can also bother people who haven't shelled out for the Ezfone. You do this by subscribing to a "Gateway" service that connects your Ezfone-initiated call to the regular phone network at the other end. I didn't try this, but I have no reason to think it won't work.

A $30US software upgrade, Ezfone Pro, gives you remote access to your Ezfone so cellphone users can call long distance without paying any more through the nose than they do for their local airtime.

As mentioned above, you can buy a lot of long distance for $200US, but if my dad (who lives a couple of thousand miles from me) had a PC, I'd have this thing plugged into his computer so fast that the people at Sprint would wonder what hit them.


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January 31, 2006