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Internet Telephone

This article was originally published on the London Tribe web magazine in 2000.


Even though most people now have mobiles, the landline telephone is still an integral part of communicating and it can be a real pain when someone tries phoning you when you're online. They either get the "engaged" tone or, if you have one, the answer-phone takes a message; if they choose to leave one.

Well, no one need hear an engaged tone ever again, with the service provided by the boffins at Witchity.  Online Call Manager (OCM) is a system which monitors your incoming calls and lets you know if someone is trying to call you when you're online. How? The idea is simple; your incoming call is diverted to Witchity's servers and they convert it to an Internet protocol and send it to your PC. You first need to sign up for the free service; then download the OCM software. This is a bit like ICQ, which allows you to know whether any of your friends are online; and chat to them (a service which Witchity also offer). The difference is that Witchity have designed the system so that your voice calls are diverted to their server and transferred to your PC.

When a call comes in  an interactive  pop-up  window appears which  provides you with Caller Identification, allowing you to know who is calling. You can then choose one of eight options to deal with the call; including,  subscription-free voice mail service  with  on-screen notification of messages; diversion to  other fixed or mobile  telephones of your choice; call transfer to your PC, allowing you to keep surfing whilst talking directly over the Internet; play pre-recorded greetings or your own personalised messages to the caller.

Neil Haverty who, with Kelley Fritz, co-founded Witchity, says the most popular option is to take the call over the Internet. Until now, the problem doing this was that it involved the use of headsets. Witchity has developed the "Voiper" handset, which is just like a normal telephone that plugs into your PC. They have improved the sound quality of phone calls that are taken over the net so that there is no noticeable difference in the quality of calls. The handset will go on sale in January.

Online Call Manager also features "OCM Alert" - a separate pop-up message window that informs you if any of your friends are online (like ICQ). You can then click on their name and talk using the free "Voice-over-Internet" call service, no matter where in the world they are calling from.  The system  contacts them  and sends a message  to their PC, telling  them that you wish to talk. If someone else calls you whilst you are already engaged in an Internet  conversation, the message window reappears and allows you to deal with the new call.

In order to use Online Call Manager you need to set up "Call Diversion" on your telephone. If you have a BT account you can do this by calling 150. BT charge £1.33 per month for this service. You must then set the call diversion to Witchity's OCM  service. The OCM  software gives  you the relevant numbers for  the calls to be  diverted to. Internet to Internet calls (VoIP), to other OCM users, are free and incur no additional charges other than your normal Internet connection charges. Each diverted call is be charged at 10p per minute (inc. VAT). Mobile phone operators may charge additional premiums for diverting to a premium rate number.

If you set Online Call Manager to take voice messages, you can retrieve them by calling 087 0727 0611 and following the instructions, using a Personal Identification Number (PIN).

BT say that they have a similar service to Witchity's Online Call Manager coming soon, details of which should appear on their web site.

For more info, go to http://witchity.com/

Jasen Quick