RealTime IT News

Free ISP Mates with ASP to Deliver VoIP

The nation's top free Internet service provider, NetZero Inc. and communications application service provider ThinkLink Inc. finally launched the "NetZero Message Center" Thursday.

NetZero and ThinkLink teamed up in May to develop the co-branded messaging service for the free ISP. Originally, the NetZero message center and low-cost calling program was scheduled for a June rollout, with e-fax and Web-based e-mail to follow for a late summer release.

Deployment delays aside, basic integrated messaging services are now available to NetZero's five million-plus registered users. The program is designed to provide members with full-service, integrated communications from a single messaging hub.

The NetZero message center features Web-based messaging including free voicemail, paging and low cost outbound calling to anywhere in the continental U.S.

Mark R. Goldston, NetZero chairman and chief executive officer said users demand that their communications services be both easy-to-use and comprehensive.

"With ThinkLink's low cost calling, local and 800 numbers, free voicemail, and soon fax and Web-based e-mail, we intend to meet those demands with premier functionality," Goldston said.

NetZero users will be able to retrieve voicemail, e-mail and fax messages with their personal local or 800 number over a password-protected website. Subscribers that participate in the NetZero program can be reached directly when the phone numbers are forwarded to existing home, office or wireless device by enabling follow-me and find-me functionality.

David B. Ward, ThinkLink president and chief executive officer, said the phone numbers enable users to enjoy true device-independent communications from any location, anytime.

"ThinkLink makes it possible for NetZero's users to have all of their communications and messaging needs met in one place," Ward said.

By creating a single "virtual" phone number for users, ThinkLink's core products include a free phone-and Internet-accessible mailbox for voicemail, e-mail, faxes and pages, free personal local and 800 numbers, and five-cent-a-minute Voice over IP calling to 48 states.

ThinkLink operates an extensive private Voice over IP network in the U.S. with more than 200 VoIP-equipped points of presence and is capable of issuing local phone numbers in 90 percent of the nation.

According to ThinkLink, neither unified messaging nor Web-managed telephony can rival its Internet integrated messaging services. Executives contend that its user-friendly Web interface is better than unified messaging, which remains a relatively high-cost telecom service.

As far as Web-managed telephony is concerned, ThinkLink believes the high costs of voicemail services limits the features providers can affordably offer to users.

It doesn't matter if a users is a "road warrior," owns multiple mobile phones and uses several e-mail addresses, ThinkLink provides a singular point of contact for all flavors of messaging.

ThinkLink recently landed co-branding deals with Lycos, Inc. and Commtouch Software Ltd. , in addition to NetZero.

The company was founded in 1997 with an angel round of investment. Its first round of venture capital funding arrived in 1998 from Softbank Technology Ventures, which was joined in July 1999 by the Mayfield Fund during the second round.