I’ve followed the IP communications business for well over a decade and in 1997 my company TMC decided to launch a publication called Internet Telephony to focus on what we believed would be a massive trend towards IP communications. At first we were ridiculed because there was a point in time when the technology was seen as a replacement for Ham radio only. It took some years but the industry caught fire and saw incredible innovation – even a bubble or two grew and exploded on the way to where we are today.
And as amazing as the market has been for 12 years or so, we didn’t see VoIP-on-a-stick become ultra-popular until a few years ago. I still remember seeing an infomercial for MagicJack on a weekend in August 2008, and I recall my eyes lit up as I absorbed the whole production.
An information screen presented when you sign up for MagicTalk service
I have never tried the device mind you but I have heard a competitor or two dismiss the quality of the stick – so I was very interested to hear the founder of the company – now VocalTec, CEO Dan Borislow tell me about his commitment to voice quality. It seemed like an obsession actually as he continued to explain all the focus his company has on making the absolute best quality calls.
Typically you won’t find the lowest cost provider of service claim quality is where they are focusing so this made the conversation that much more interesting.
For example, the next version of the product, which for now is called the MagicJack Plus, will have an on-board ARM CPU – something your smartphone wields as well as memory and hardware-based echo-cancellation. The size will be similar to the current MagicJack but this device will not have to be plugged into Ethernet – you can use USB or AC as it has an optional WiFi module which works in a USB daisy chain fashion. Dan explained he has tested the device with Clearwire and Verizon 4G and the call quality is great using these networks as well. The best part of all may be it takes only 15 seconds to get it up and running.
We spent some time talking about the company’s ads – he mentioned that others say they have become stale but he emphatically explained they keep working as well as ever. Besides, he said how much can you change a 15-second ad and still get everything in? He says his company runs more 15-second ad spots than any other company in the country. Moreover, he gave a shout out to Best Buy and Radio Shack among others for continuing to sell the products in large numbers. At this point Borislow explains there are 15 million MagicJack users.
Another information screen presented when you sign up for MagicTalk service
He told me his company plans to abandon its femtocell strategy he had announced over a year ago as most smartphones have WiFi built-in now. He thinks it is better to instead focus on apps and in the next 90 days or so we should see these rolled out across a number of devices. As you might expect, once again, he said his company will focus on rolling out high-quality VoIP calls on their applications. He mentioned that prior to iOS 4.2 which allows multitasking; it didn’t make sense to have a VoIP app on a smart phone anyway.
MagicTalk, the company’s software based VoIP service is scheduled to go live this week and yet again, he focused a good amount of time going over the voice quality we can expect. I downloaded the Beta copy of the software and gave it a whirl and was very impressed. The sound was great, it integrated with my headset seamlessly and the UI was easy to understand and use. In my tests I called cell and landline phones. If there is any downside it is in full-duplex situations where both parties are talking simultaneously. Generally this is rarely an issue on phone calls which aren’t testing the line for quality. In summary, it’s free to download, sounds good and it lets you call the US and Canada at no cost for now… What’s not to like?
Interestingly, Borislow wasn’t bashful about saying that competitors are having a hard time competing with him… NetTALK for example another voice stick service – he claims their product doesn’t work and mentions how difficult it is to scale a SIP network to massive numbers. He says it is nearly impossible to do and mentions that is why Google Voice doesnt always work and the quality isn’t so great. Likewise, he says his company blows the call quality of Skype away. Moreover, he explained that 94 percent of the company’s calls hit the PSTN meaning a wideband codec isn’t generally that useful. Having said that, they use their own G.711 wideband codec between endpoints – even if one is a MagicJack and the other is MagicTalk.
Few people would go on record saying their product is better than Skype, Google and all others but I give Dan Borislow a lot of credit for saying what he feels and I certainly spent more time beating up MagicTalk as a result – I wanted to be sure that his product has the quality he said it did.
Again, I wasn’t disappointed.
We can expect heavy promotion of MagicTalk as soon as the product is released officially. He thinks they can achieve about 15 million users of the service. So far there are 270,000 Beta users.
I did find a couple of problems with the software – it crashed once when I wasn’t using it and I had trouble dialing another user via the supplied 10-digit number users are assigned Update: you must dial the preceding and trailing asterisk of your assigned phone number and it works great. Hopefully both this issues will be solved in the general release.
Marketing is obviously the company’s strength and as such when we can expect to see new and different messaging rolled out soon – he mentioned perhaps a raffle of $1 million awarded to anyone who makes a call using the service as an example.
He says he is ultra confident that once people try the software they will like it and based on my experience – he is likely right. Again, it’s free, has good quality and is easy to use… What’s not to like?
One last point which captured the essence of the discussion… I asked him about a social networking strategy for the company and this is what he said:
I never hit my kids in their life but to get my daughter off Facebook I am going to have to hit her… I have to be part of it.
Obviously this was not a run of the mill discussion and Dan Borislow may be the most interesting and/or unique person in the telecom space. Now, let's see if he can use his entrepreneurial "we are the best, hands down" attitude and unique marketing talents to take on Skype and Google effectively.