By Kevin Murphy The UK population’s increasing desire to be contactable 24 hours a day 7 days a week, no matter where they are, has led to a number of start-up companies jumping into the unified messaging arena with the aim of capturing the emerging market. The launch of Yac.com Ltd, due to go live […]
By Kevin Murphy
The UK population’s increasing desire to be contactable 24 hours a day 7 days a week, no matter where they are, has led to a number of start-up companies jumping into the unified messaging arena with the aim of capturing the emerging market. The launch of Yac.com Ltd, due to go live next month, will add to the number of companies currently slugging it out for customers.
Yac.com intends to do for unified messaging what Freeserve Plc did for internet access. The firm aims to have 100,000 users of its free unified messaging service before Christmas. It has reserved a block of one million phone numbers in the 07092 prefix range, and managing director, Piers Mummery says that the company expects each one to be in use 12 months after launch. If the numbers go unused, industry regulator Oftel will ask for them back.
Users of the Yac.com service receive a personal ‘follow-me’ number, and are given 50 free calling cards as a sweetener. A telephone or web-based interface is used to set re-direction preferences for voice, email and fax data. Voicemail and fax messages are translated into .wav and .tif files and emailed to a user-specified email address. The company is internet service provider independent, unlike its competitors, which requires an @specificISP address.
Competitor Vivao Plc, which yesterday emerged as the technology provider behind UM offerings from telecoms carrier Euphony Plc and e-commerce darling Jungle.com, approaches UM from the opposite direction. Instead of personal numbers, Vivao gives users the ability to receive and forward voice, email and fax messages from a single web-based account. There is no follow-me number, simply a number that can be used by the account holder or his contacts to message.
Both firms make revenue from the price of the phone call to the UM account. Yac’s is the more expensive J-rate of around 32 pence ($0.51) per minute peak, while Vivao’s K-rate is closer to 24 pence. The account holder pays to access his messages in Vivao’s model, while Yac.com customers get the service for free – the calling party picks up the charge. In addition, Vivao charges 4.95 pounds ($7.90) per month for access to certain services, such as the ability to send and redirect faxes and SMS messages to mobile phones (an additional 20 pence ($0.38) per message). Services not also offered by Yac include text-to-voice translation for access of email via a mobile phone.
Although Yac’s offering is clearly the more competitive, it is selling itself as a branded service, aiming at students, mobile professionals and global travelers. Vivao is often transparent to the end user, working through branded service partners, such as Jungle, which offer UM as a value-added service, raking off a percentage of call charges. It currently has 10,000 users through its three announced partner companies, and is in talks with ISPs and dot com firms to expand its subscriber base.
Its system is built around a Sun/Oracle platform, with additional third party software from companies including Netscape Communications Corp and Intel Corp’s Dialogic arm. Business development director Allen Scott said additional functionality, such as voice-to-text translation, would be easy to bolt on if a partner required it. It is currently looking at speech technology from firms like IBM Corp and Lernout & Hauspie NV. The system is hosted by ISP Easynet Plc.
London-based Yac’s technology platform was developed by former Nortel Networks Inc employees in Galway, Ireland, where Yac has its R&D labs. Calls will be routed over Colt Telecom Plc’s network in the UK, and AT&T Corp’s internationally, and these network providers pass a share of the incoming revenue to Yac. The firm is a year old, and completed its first round of funding earlier this year, raising $2m.
Yac’s service is available internationally, in that web sign-up is possible, and calls can be routed to non-UK phone numbers at no additional cost to user. Although margins will be smaller in non-UK countries, the overall margin is such that Yac says prices will probably start to drop, and will become uniform no matter what time a call is made, around three months after launch. Unlike UM firms such as Contact Box Ltd, there are no minimum usage contracts to be signed.
Two year-old Vivao is based in Maidenhead, UK, but is controlled from a Delaware-based shell company in order to have an effective US presence ahead of an initial public offering some time next year.