Together at last

New tools unify e-mail and phone services

In an age when the average American has at least two phone numbers, the time has come to streamline the telephone system, linking multiple phones with one phone number; to consolidate voice mail from multiple lines into one file; and to bring together instant messaging, phone, and video. It’s called unified communications, and the first such IP-based products have just begun to hit the market.

Canadian firm iotum (, designed for those with multiple phone lines and messaging services, uses proprietary algorithms to interpret information about how you want to communicate, based on personal preference, history, and relationships. Its Relevance Engine technology decides which device should take the call and rings only if you want it to, based on your schedule and preferences.

The Relevance Engine takes relationship information from address books, IM buddy lists, and social networking sites and combines it with information taken from your IM presence, calendar, location, and other factors. With iotum, your availability will be broadcast to your contacts and vice versa, so you know when people you want to contact are available. eliminating annoying and repeated contact attempts. Various plans are available for mobile, consumer, and enterprise or business users; pricing was not set at press time, but features for Blackberry devices were free.

GrandCentral ( consolidates multiple phone numbers into one line with numerous features, including call recording and tagging, or forwarding voicemail. In addition, all voicemail is put into one mailbox that can be accessed online or by phone. The service is free.

As the first consumer example of unified communications, GrandCentral is a precursor to the corporate versions to be offered (by Microsoft and IBM), says Geoff Johnson, vice president of research at Gartner. “The real advantage to GrandCentral is that you can play with unified communications in a social context before businesses are deploying unified communications widely.”

Road warriors will never have to miss a call again, because calls from their business line can be picked up on their cell phone. For fans of voicemail, it means that they no longer have to delete messages for lack of space, because they are stored online indefinitely.

How does GrandCentral work? First, users choose a number in any of 47 states (not Maine, Hawaii, or Alaska), then enter their existing phone numbers. If the numbers change, it’s easy to update them. Users can also group their contacts’ numbers and create customized greetings or ringback tones for each group. Unknown callers can go into voicemail; family calls can ring all your phones; business calls can ring at work, and so on.

GrandCentral is probably of the greatest benefit to phone jugglers or those who move or change jobs often. “I think the particular sweet spot for GrandCentral is the prosumer/business worker who manages multiple lines and wants ultimate control over who can reach them, when, and how,” says Sally Cohen, Forrester Research analyst.

One To Watch
Sitòfono (, based in Italy, offers services aimed at businesses and entrepreneurs and lets them receive calls directly from the Web via a set phone

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