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No Internet Required: Manifone Launches Skype Calling from Any Phone

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April 07, 2009

No Internet Required: Manifone Launches Skype Calling from Any Phone

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

A France-based company this week unveiled a new service that leverages Skype Internet calling to allow users to reach their contacts without requiring a PC or Web-enabled device.

Officials at Manifone say their so-called “Mani-Sky” service – launched this week – is a telecom industry first that assigns “real” telephone numbers to Skype (News - Alert) contacts, making them reachable from a fixed-line or mobile phone.
The service is free for calls under three minutes, according to the company’s founder and chief executive officer, Lounis Goudjil, and customers who want to place longer calls can opt for a flat-fee six-month subscription that offers unlimited calls to Skype for $10.
Goudjil told TMCnet during an interview today that Manifone – a 3-year-old company whose original (i.e., VoIP but non-Skype) service is free to subscribe to and operates in nearly 50 nations worldwide – already has about 30,000 users.
The idea for Mani-Sky arose as Goudjil and his company considered that they didn’t really have a big enough network of their own clients to propose a free internal calling service, he said. eBay (News - Alert)-owned Skype’s network, the largest of its kind, made perfect sense.
“Up to now, you could make PC-to-PC or smartphone-to-smartphone or PC-to-telephone calls on Skype,” Goudjil said. “But there were no real possibilities to call from a standard phone line into Skype.”
The service works remarkably well, and Manifone’s price for the Mani-Sky service isn’t unreasonable, as long as subscribers find themselves making enough international calls to Skype contacts and would find it convenient to be able to call them from a cell phone with unlimited minutes, for example (when creating a Manifone account from within the United States, registrants are asked to say whether they live near Atlanta or New York City).
I just called a Skype contact on her PC from my own cell phone – a dinosaur of a device – and the connection was perfectly clear (just the usual PC microphone call echo). She herself remarked that my voice was coming through far clearer than her nearly daily Skype-to-Skype calls from the United States to Ireland do.
The Mani-Sky service will be free during a promotional period, the company says. Goudjil told us that free period would last until the end of this month.
The service also is very easy to use. Once an account has been set up, users can log in and enter up to 10 contacts – whether they’re regular phone numbers for international contacts, say, or Skype contacts. For Skype contacts, users just type in the person’s handle. In either case, a “local” number pops up immediately beside each entry, so the service launches straightaway.
Goudjil told us that the potential for the service is tremendous, and I largely agree. He conceded that there’s a similar – but not identical – service offered by Montreal’s Mobivox, a voice-activated mobile VoIP service, including free Skype calling.
In a way – by assigning more familiar, “real” phone numbers to Skype users – Manifone is tailoring the ultra-popular Web calling service to an old form. And that’s done on purpose, Goudjil told us.
“We feel that up to now and certainly for many more years, the biggest majority of telephone users will not be ones who download apps from the Internet,” he said. “I personally don’t know of more than 5 to 7 percent of users that will go through downloading an application.”
Goudjil says that more and more mobile phone manufacturers themselves will end up integrating some kind of VoIP client inside their phones.
On the other hand, Manifone is a SIP-based service that can be integrated.
“We are ready, but we would rather think that we could still bring something new and allow easy usage of Skype through a standard telephony network,” he told us.

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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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