today announced that their closed/invite-only beta is now open the public. Talkster essentially lets you place free calls from your regular cell phone to instant messaging clients such as MSN Messenger, Google Talk, and Gizmo Project. What's nice about Talkster is you don't have to have a telephone number to reach someone - you simply use their buddy (contact) name. Further, Talkster is convenient because it consolidates 3 popular communications services people and allows you to leverage them to make VoIP calls to any of these services using your mobile phone. In fact, during this now public beta, calls to instant messaging services are free. I talked with James Wanless, president and chief operating officer of Talkster and asked him why Yahoo Messenger was notably absent since I knew they were SIP-based. James mentioned that Yahoo has put in several security layers to block anyone from connecting to their network. Wasn't Yahoo blocking Trillian and GAIM years ago? They're still playing these stupid games?
I asked about Skype and James acknowledged the importance of Skype and he pointed out that they have a desktop application that would allow you to view the presence of Skype users and make/receive calls. However, he stated, "In terms of providing a service, having to have people run clients on their PC and have to rely on the fact that the PC is always on and hasn't leaked memory or crashed - that's not a good thing. It's really a bad thing. There are some services that have been looking at ways of replicating the desktop environment into a server and run many many Skype clients together, but that still is a really clunky non-scalable way of building out a service. Skype is a company who already has a SIP layer which sits on top of the Skype network. You know when you have SkypeIn and they give you a number, that is coming from a VoIP provider, but they've just chosen not to open it up right now."
I also asked about a native SIP client so there is no need for a callback or dialing into a local gateway and James mentioned that their network can support it today and stated they he was looking forward to the day when these phones support open standards such as SIP and have the added processing horsepower to handle SIP calls. But he also pointed out "Yes it (SIP calls) works when it works, however there are a lot of issues with it disconnecting and not reconnecting."
There are two ways that calls can be connected using Talkster. Most services call you back, however Talkster can also dial a local gateway on an outbound call and then connect you to the far end. This local gateway method is important in Europe where the EU is in the process of regulating the cost of roaming by the Summer of 2007. This will enable a person that is traveling outside their home country to make a call to a local gateway while traveling and the roaming costs will reduced. When someone picks up the phone and goes to another country using Talkster's you can save substantially on the cost of the call. James wrote an interesting blog post on how the new rules will impact VoIP arbitrage
From the web interface (a fat-client software application will be available next year) you can view the presence for any of your contacts. When you view the details for any of your contacts you have the option to call using four methods, including IM, mobile, PSTN, and VoIP. No doubt comparisons will be made between Talkster and Jajah, Talkplus, or Rebtel. One obvious difference is that Talkster supports both call back and dial-in methods, but another important differentiator is that Talkster is focused on the enterprise market, while the other solutions focus on the consumer market or special verticals such as dating using a second phone number.
The concept of using a person's buddy name instead of their phone number is not new. However, I do like how Talkster consolidates various popular IM platforms. This got me thinking what the future may hold. Right now Talkster, Jajah, Rebtel, Talkplus, and all the other interesting Voice 2.0 providers leverage the existing carrier's infrastructure both for the PSTN and the IP connectivity. The carriers have been slow to adopt Voice 2.0 or provide cool applications to their customers and instead have left it to upstarts. For instance, I can envision AT&T/SBC, which is already a huge Yahoo partner offering similar Voice 2.0 solutions, but in a more integrated fashion, since AT&T/SBC owns their own network. SBC offers packages of local and long distance, Internet, wireless phone and satellite TV (through DISH Network). Add in the fact that they are a Yahoo partner, and I can envision some intriguing Voice 2.0 possibilities. Then again, since when do carriers offer a nice integrated and feature-rich product without charging you an arm and a leg for it.