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PiaTel Rejuvenates The Humble Home Phone

From low-cost conference calls with overseas relatives to taking credit card payments for private sales, technologically aware families stand to benefit from the introduction of PiaTel. Launched in the UK on April 2, 2007 and established on a proprietary soft switch platform new to the UK, PiaTel combines a wide range of phone, web and financial services into a single resource which can substantially improve the way families and friends communicate.

For a single, modest monthly payment, subscribers to PiaTel have instant access to more than 80 functions, many of which have hitherto been unavailable to UK homes, all served and managed on PiaTel’s single, unified platform and broadly listed under the three headings of phone, web and financial.

Phone users may already be accustomed to such automated features as voicemail, call waiting and call diversion but PiaTel goes much further. The benefits start with PiaTel’s ability to provide geographic (i.e. landline-style) numbers based in over 3000 locations worldwide but routed to a user’s UK number. If a Manchester householder has relatives in, say, Mumbai and Melbourne, PiaTel can provide her with numbers local to those two cities; her relatives in those cities then dial what are, for them, local numbers with local call charges but their calls are received in Manchester. It means, in effect, that calls can be made to and from almost anywhere in the world for a typical charge of just 1.8p a minute overseas and 1.25p a minute within the UK.

This facility can be extended to conferencing calling, which means that several family members can chat together simultaneously, no matter where they are in the world, for the price of a local call. It’s an ideal way to bring the family together for Mothers’ Day, a family anniversary or any day of celebration.

The concept of having a ‘one number’ facility – a single phone number that finds users wherever they are – isn’t new to the UK but has hitherto been focused on premium rate 07 numbers, at a price which explains its low uptake. PiaTel changes all this, with ‘one number’ and ‘follow me’ on any of its geographic numbers, at landline rates. Friends and relatives no longer need an address book full of numbers for each person: a single number can find its owner at home, at work, overseas, on a mobile and even by fax, and if they’re unreachable, it will take a voicemail message and alert them by SMS or email. They can then retrieve the message by phone – at local call charges anywhere in the world – by email or over the web.

And if even 1.25p a minute is off-putting – for example, to that errant teenager whose mobile credit is always running out – PiaTel offers each subscriber an 0800 number on their account. No more excuses for not phoning home!

Possibly the greatest nuisance of the phone age – junk calls – are consigned to the past with PiaTel, because of phone screening. Subscribers can decide which callers can follow them to which numbers, which should be greeted with voicemail and which should simply be ignored.

Phone facilities continue with the ability to send and receive faxes and voicegrams – voicegrams are recorded messages sent by phone, email or web to any recipient at any time up to a year away, with delivery automatically repeated until the message is received. They’re useful for confirming appointments, sending out reminders or delivering messages to different time zones. Users can even send voicegrams to themselves as appointment or anniversary reminders, alarm calls and so forth.

Because of its unified platform, PiaTel’s web-based facility provides online management for many of the functions, including ‘one number’ and ‘follow me’ routing, voicemail, fax, voicegrams and phonebooks. And for precious documents or images, users can upload or backup documents to their own private online document store. The ‘one number’ concept also extends to a PiaTel email address which can be used on its own or as a consolidated address for other emails. And subscribers can manage their PiaTel accounts and billing online.

PiaTel’s financial services offer a major breakthrough for individuals and small businesses who’d like to take credit and debit card payments. For the first time in the UK, subscribers can receive card payments via their PiaTel account, making it possible to sell goods privately through local classifieds, car boot sales and craft fairs without relying on cash and cheques. It’s also a valuable alternative to PayPal on eBay. The service comes complete with an order taking system, credit and debit card processing, and electronic funds access and transfers. The buyer simply pays over the phone, using touch tones to enter card and payment details, and the funds can be credited to the subscriber’s PiaCard, which is a standard debit card, accepted by over 24 million merchants around the world. PiaCard cash can be retrieved at any one of a million ATM locations worldwide.

Steve Lemonides, CEO of PiaTel, says: “PiaTel makes it so much easier – and cheaper – for families and friends to keep in touch, cut out nuisance calls and manage their finances, in a way that’s never before been possible in the UK.”

The PiaTel service is VOIP based but the audio quality is a far remove from conventional internet telephony, and the service overcomes the quality criticisms levelled at established VOIP providers. The so called ‘final half mile’ from exchange to customer premises is carried as telephone traffic, not broadband, and global traffic is carried over PiaTel’s own private network, which all adds up to no special equipment for customers (not even the need for a broadband service), no battle for internet bandwidth, and crystal clear voice quality.

Steve Lemonides continues: “We use VOIP technology behind the scenes but we’re not a VOIP provider. What our customers get is great quality telephony, a range of new, valuable services, and national and international calls at VOIP style prices.”

Monthly subscriptions to PiaTel cost from just £7.99 including VAT and customers can sign up online, instantly, at any time. Call charges are typically 1.25p per minute including VAT.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.