AT&T today announced another round of new feature enhancements for AT&T CallVantage Service including the availability of "Simple Reach Number," a new capability that enables subscribers to have up to nine additional telephone numbers for their service in any available area code. The new enhancements are the latest in a series of innovations the company plans to add to this popular new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.
"AT&T is moving quickly to deliver innovations that will bring consumers more features, better quality and greater value for residential broadband phone service," said Cathy Martine, AT&T senior vice president for Internet Telephony. "We have a pipeline of exciting new enhancements coming from AT&T Labs that will give AT&T CallVantage Service customers even more capabilities, convenience and control over their communications."
The Simple Reach(SM) Number feature enables AT&T CallVantage Service customers to add up to nine additional telephone numbers anywhere in the country where AT&T offers residential VoIP service. For example, customers can choose numbers with area codes where they have out-of-town friends and family so that these geographically distant people may call without incurring long distance charges.
Likewise, home office workers can set up numbers with area codes near their office or in markets close to key customers establishing a local presence and saving their customers long-distance fees.
Calls to any Simple Reach Number will ring to the primary AT&T CallVantage Service phone. If the call isn't answered, it will be forwarded to voice mail and callers will hear the same greeting as if they dialed the primary number. Similarly, the "Do Not Disturb" or "Locate Me" features will intercept or forward calls from Simple Reach Numbers as if they came in to the primary number. There is a monthly charge of $4.95 for each Simple Reach Number.
The company also introduced today additional service enhancements that include:
"International Call Blocking /Shut Off," will provide the ability to block or unblock outbound international calls to those locations where a per-minute fee would be assessed;
"International Calls in Call Log," tracks all international placed and received calls to create a complete record of all usage;
"Caller ID/International Update," now delivers Caller ID information, where available, on all international calls;
"Caller ID Name from Phone Book," that allows even further personalization of the service by displaying the personalized or preferred name from the phone book as the Caller ID name for in-coming calls. For example, "Mom" will appear instead of "Smith, Jane."
AT&T also announced today that it will begin shipping a "Home Wiring Do-It-Yourself Guide" with each self-install kit containing an AT&T CallVantage Service Telephone Adapter (TA) and manuals.
The guide offers customers step-by-step instructions for connecting the service via inside wiring to multiple home phones to replicate the traditional home calling environment and make the most efficient use of their existing telephone equipment.
Existing customers can download the handy home wiring guide from their Personal AT&T CallVantage Service Call Manager Web portal at https://www.callvantage.att.com/help/index.htm.
I tried accessing their manual, since I was curious if they instruct you to do the wiring the way I did my house, but alas, it does require an AT&T CallVantage number. I've been meaning to get a demo account.
"Last month we introduced a fee-based inside wiring service to seamlessly integrate broadband phone service into the home environment," said Martine. "We now have a complete solution suite with both a do-it-yourself and full-service offer."
These new capabilities become available Thursday, September 16.
Over the next several weeks, AT&T will implement an automatic software upgrade for its existing telephone adapters that will provide customers greater flexibility in their home networking configurations. The upgrade will allow customers to place the TA anywhere they choose although the recommended configuration will continue to be between the high-speed modem and the router ("in front" of the router) as it is today. This will ensure the greatest quality of service although for some users a "behind" the router configuration may be more convenient.
Introduced in late March, AT&T CallVantage Service is now serving consumers in 170 markets in 39 states and Washington, D.C. The service, which works with a customer's broadband connection, provides a complete calling solution that provides unlimited local and long-distance domestic calling, including calls to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, unlimited calling to Canada, discount rates for international calling, and a suite of advanced features all for a special six-month introductory rate of $19.99 a month through September 30, 2004. The cost of service is then $34.99 a month.
The nine number option is nice, but it's $4.95 a pop. If they really want to compete with or steal customers from Vonage, they should give you the first 2 phone numbers for free, and only charge if you want three or more numbers.
The international blocking and blocking of pay-per-minute phone numbers is a great idea. I'm sure it was easy for AT&T to leverage their existing PSTN infrastructure which already supports these features and extend it to the VoIP world. That's one nice advantage that AT&T has over VoIP startups - they have what, something like 100 years of experience doing phone stuff? They've probably seen it all and have implemented features and backend databases to handle it all.
All in all, the new AT&T CallVantage features are pretty good. It's making me mighty tempted to jump ship from Vonage.