Digital World: A better way to phone home

Jajah, for those who haven't yet been introduced to it, is the Internet's prime example of "Web-activate" IP telephony.

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 26, 2006 07:33

 
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I could tell you that I finally signed up as a Jajah (http://www.jajah.com) user because it just wasn't cool that I, a super-geek in every other way who uses computers for almost any and every communication purpose - radio, TV, video, messaging, etc. - was still stuck in the ancient Bell-era of landline phone use. Or, I could tell you that I wanted to support a great Internet innovation that relies for much of its goodness on local brainpower (Jajah maintains a large development center in Ra'anana, and ICQ's Yair Goldfinger is on its board of directors). Or, I could tell you that I wanted to find a cheap way to make local and international phone calls from Israel, and that Jajah is one of the few IP telephony companies to support its full suite of services, and low prices, for users in Israel - unlike other services, which either won't work with local land or cell numbers, or have a rate premium (i.e. higher prices) for Israeli users. I could even tell you that Jajah is perhaps the most convenient and easiest to use computer system to make phone calls with, because you don't need a microphone or other apparatus to make calls - all the talking is done right on your regular telephone. I could name all these as reasons for my adopting Jajah, but I would be lying - although on their own, each and every one of the above listed reasons would be enough to urge anyone to make their phone calls through Jajah's easy to use Web interface. The reason I'm using Jajah for my phone needs whenever feasible - i.e. whenever I'm sitting in front of a Web browser and I need to make a phone call - is simple: I have had it up to here (my hand is under my chin) with the phone company's heavy-handed ways. But more on that later. Jajah, for those who haven't yet been introduced to it, is the Internet's prime example of "Web-activate" IP telephony. While VOIP services are as common as mushrooms after a rain these days, most of them - such as Skype - require that you hook up headphones and a microphone to your PC in order to make phone calls. You can also, if you wish, acquire a phone that plugs into the wall (plain old PSTN-type telephone systems) and your computer's USB port (http://www.i-voip.co.uk), enabling you to use services like Skype on "regular" phones. There are even phones that utilize Wifi technology to connect to Skype's IP network (http://tools.netgear.com/skype). And, of course, you can plug a phone into a Cisco ATA adapter (http://www.inphonex.com/support/cisco-ata.php) and connect to IP phone services via your ADSL or cable modem. Jajah, however, requires no extra equipment, and enables you to make IP network calls on your regular phone company phone. At the Jajah site, you simply type in your phone number (up to three per single free account, including mobile phones) and the phone number you want to contact, and press "call." Your own phone begins to ring almost immediately, and when you answer a voice on the other end tells you that "Jajah is now connecting your call." You, indeed, hear the phone ringing on the other side, and when answered, you conduct your conversation like you would with a regular phone call. Except that you're not paying phone company rates, you're paying Jajah rates, which in many cases are free. Jajah users can call others in the network, worldwide, for nothing. Other conversations to landlines in the US, Canada, most of Europe, China and other locations costs US 2 cents. And, if you call a number not in the Jajah network, the site helpfully suggests that you send your correspondent an e-mail urging them to sign up for Jajah, too, so your next conversation can be free. Jajah's rates are extremely reasonable when compared to similar services (although several are tenths of a cent cheaper on their lowest rates). According to the site's FAQ, Jajah will be happy to serve customers who sign up just to take advantage of the free call feature, with no hidden charges, etc. - up to about 1,000 minutes per month. Beyond that, the site says, Jajah will gently suggest that you purchase some premium services, such as conference calls or scheduled calls, which you can use at no extra charge (but only apply to calls you pay for). Most impressive, the cheap rates and the full array of Jajah services are available to users in Israel - making it one of the few, if not only, full service IP telephony systems local users can take advantage of, providing service even to cell phones of all Israeli networks. Jajah works, as noted, with landline or cell phones, and if you have a Symbian system phone that supports Java, you can bypass a Web browser altogether and download an application that will allow you to make Jajah calls directly from your cell phone. There are also various plug-ins for use with Outlook, Firefox, and Mac OSx Address Book (which looked good but I couldn't get to work), or Google, allowing easier access to the phone dialing interface and your phone book (which you can display on as many computers as you wish). As usual, I tinkered and found that Jajah worked as advertised, and then some. When you sign up, the site generously deposits some phone credit money in your account, but as I made call after call I noted that my account remained stable with the dialing interface telling me that all the calls I was making were free. I am positive that not everyone I called was a Jajah user, so I must have gotten into some sort of site promotion campaign - or maybe this thing is bigger than I thought! (Jajah gives you five minutes of free use before you actually sign up, but I had already registered and was theoretically not eligible for that freebie anymore). Well, when it became clear just how cheap this thing was, I set up Jajahs all over house - the upstairs computer, the kitchen computer, the kids' computer, the Macs, the laptop etc. And I registered three numbers (two cells and a landline). To top it off, I made two calls at once from two different Web interfaces - one on the landline and one on a cell. Guess what? They both worked perfectly! Like I said, all this would be more than enough reason to use Jajah, but I had another motive - maybe less idealistic than cheap universal IP telephony for all but, from a consumer point of view, just as important. Oh, I can't blame the phone company altogether. I admit it - I am late on bills once in awhile, mostly due to overwork or a mess on my desk. Also, I lose the bills once in awhile. So, what happens? You guessed it - Bezeq turns off my phone service. Instead of a dial tone, I hear a voice telling me that I haven't paid my bill and that I have to get in touch with a company representative to pay. This has happened to me at least three times in the past two years. You must pay the bill on time for the exact amount you owe, within five days of the payment deadline. Otherwise, expect to have your service turned off. Don't get me wrong, I deserve to have my service turned off if I don't pay, I suppose. But aren't they (by law?) supposed to inform you before they turn the phone off? Shouldn't there be a way to get in touch with Bezeq even though service has been turned off? How are you supposed to pay the bill if you don't have a cell phone? What if you don't even get a bill (which has happened to me at least twice)? Whose fault is it then? Doesn't the phone company know how much you owe, like other utilities which tell you what your balance is on their automated pay systems when you enter your account number? That way, even messy people will be able to avoid the inconvenience of having to fix this after the fact. The company obviously disagrees, but interestingly, every time this happens, they have a "helpful" suggestion to avoid such problems in the future - just open a "standing account" (hora'at kevah), which will allow them to deduct the amount you owe directly from your bank account every month. Sorry, I'll keep my bill. I want to see where my money goes before it gets there. Either I "reform" my messy ways, it seems - or rely as much as I can on Jajah! http://digital.newzgeek.com

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