Sunday, 3 December 2006

ConnectMeAnywhere.com: initial review






I met Belinda Gallagher of ConnectMeAnywhere.com (CMA) at the London Firefox 2 launch party and decided to take a quick look at the service, which I'd already heard of, which is not surprising as it's had lots of publicity.

They offer cheap international phone calls to over 130 countries from your mobile phone or landline (using VOIP behind the scenes, I presume), with the user just dialling a local phone number. You get 25 free credits when you first sign up to try the service out with, at least for the time being - I don't know how long this initial offer will last.

It's a very smart use of technology, and a good illustration of convergence in communications and telecommunications, notably computers/Internet and mobile telephony - what CMA call MOIP (Mobile over IP) rather than VOIP.

From an initial quick look it's been very well thought through in its execution too, at least on the website front, e.g. (always a bugbear of mine on the usability front) good comprehensive help pages (not accessible from their main page though) and FAQs (including quick-read summary, demos via Flash video and static pages, helpful timezone links).

UPDATE: excellent idea, great website/help - but the service doesn't work. See "Does it work?" below. I'm not going to bother any further with it.

Registration

You have to register your cellphone number, giving your full name, email address (though no verification email is sent - UPDATE I did get one some time later) and country, and then add the international contacts you want to call via CMA (up to 20) to a "calling list", though you will "soon" have the ability to call contacts not in your calling list. It would be good if it could automatically add selected contacts from your mobile phone or app like Outlook, but I guess I'm being lazy, 20 isn't too many to have to add manually.

After you've registered, you can add up to 9 other phone numbers (e.g. your home landline) which you can call from.

A puzzle - you can't register a landline number initially. I know most people in the UK these days have mobiles but surely they'd be able to grab a bigger market share if they allowed people with landline-only phones to register? Suspicious, paranoid moo that I am, I always worry with these things that they might want to use your mobile phone number to send you marketing spam texts, which is why I generally refuse to give it out or send any "confirmation texts" (or enter "prize draws" or TV contests etc), unless I absolutely have to (e.g. for Widsets) and the privacy policy of the site concerned promises not to do that. CMA's privacy policy looked OK at a quick glance. But I still wonder why you have to have a mobile phone in order to sign up for their service?

All the information entry is done via the Web, you don't need to use your mobile phone or download anything to your computer or phone.

You get given one special local number to call per contact you add, and you can get the number sent to your mobile phone via SMS text (which you have to pay for). It would be good if they allowed you to copy the list of special numbers easily to another app on your computer. But I've found that highlighting a number in your calling list and using copy/paste works.

Voicemail by email (V-Mail)

You can even send MP3 voicemails to your contacts in any country, if you've added their email addresses to your calling list. I like!

Topping up, and CAFE incentive programme

There's an online list of pricing/rates, and they show the rates in local currency e.g. pounds sterling in the UK.

At the moment, they're offering a free credit of 25 (pence? pounds?) to get you going, which has no expiry date (usually credit you buy has to be used up within 6 months) so it may be worth signing up for the free trial now, while it's still on offer.

You topup your credit via Paypal or credit card or debit card, in chunks of £5, £10, £20 or £50 for the UK anyway, and they've got a clever "CAFE" (Connect-a-friend-entitlement) referral scheme to incentivise people to invite their friends: when invited friends buy credit, you get free credit too (10% of whatever they buy).

It's a good idea but it would be better if (after the 25 credits special offer free trial period ends) any friends you invited also got say 10% off their first purchase of credit using the promotional code you give them, to incentivise invitees to sign up.

I'm also assuming that when you call the special local number, it just uses up your credits - you shouldn't get charged anything on top of that for the call, not even a local rate call, you should just get charged whatever rate they've shown for that country in the pricing list, at least I hope so.

Countries

Where can you call from?
The service is currently available if you live in the UK, US, Canada, Australia (calling a Sydney number), Netherlands, or France (see list).

Singapore was also on the list but the service was recently terminated on CMA, possibly because local telecomms companies were worried about the competition..? (though Singapore is still listed on their rates page and countries page).
Where can you call to?
You can call people in over 130 countries.

Does it work?

I've only had the chance to try one number so far. It helpfully told me how many minutes I would have to call that country, then it rang. But guess what? After a few rings, it did a beep, silence for a few seconds, another few beeps, then it cut out. To add insult to injury, when I tried again it had eaten into my credits. So it looks like you get charged even if you didn't successfully connect.

It could be a problem with the number I was trying to call. (UPDATE: Or maybe because I hadn't clicked the verification email link before trying to call? If the service won't work properly till you've clicked the verification link, then they should tell you so - not let you login, or when you call the number given, tell you that you must click the link first - rather than eat up your credits without connecting you. Bit of a usability fault there if so). I'll need to try others to see. Anyone in the USA, say, Dallas even, care to give me their number to try and call them...?

UPDATE: hah, well so much for that. The first time I tried to call, I was told I had X minutes' calling time, then I got the beeps as mentioned above but didn't get connected. I tried again immediately, and I was told I had reduced calling time, even though I hadn't got through the first time. I checked my credits and, yep, they'd deducted some of my 25 credits. I tried again, some time later, and even though I had over 20 credits left, I was still told I didn't have enough credits left to make the call. I'd have been very, very fed up if I'd bought those credits with my own money. Just as well they give you 25 free credits, but I really won't be bothering to try this service again, myself. I'll stick to Skype or MobileWorld. What a pity.

Comment

Apart from it not working, at least for me on one overseas number (a bit of a biggie), the only other major downside I could immediately think of was that you have to call a separate phone number for each contact - but even before I could raise that question, Belinda told me that next week they'll be launching an improvement whereby you only need to dial a single local phone number whoever you want to call, and then you enter the first 3 digits or so of a particularly contact's name to call them. They've got other new features planned too, like SMS, special SIM cards, conference calling and email-to-phone. But it would be nice if it worked!

CMA's profit comes from their getting a cut of the amount charged to users when they call/topup. The concept is brilliant. I can see this potentially making loads of money for the founders. I've yet to try it out fully to see if it works on other numbers, but if only they can get the service to work properly and if it is as cost-effective and efficient for customers as it looks (connection/call quality simply have to hold up or they'll lose cusotmers), and if they can keep their pricing sufficiently competitive to keep attracting customers while getting enough of a turn, were I an investor I'd seriously think about buying into this.

UPDATE: However, a service that doesn't actually work is not going to make much money, however much potential there is in the idea and however good the website and the instructions/help. A fundamental point about consumers: customers have limited time and patience, and if you frustrate them too much or too often, they won't keep trying or won't come back. It should be simple, but it doesn't work. I for one won't be persisting with this service.

11 comments:

Herschel said...

I tried and I had the same result: I could not speak. The worst thing is that I paid 5p for the phone call.

Improbulus said...

Sorry to hear that Roberto, so you didn't get the 25 free credits then?

I've updated my post as it's still not working. I'm giving up now.

Anonymous said...

Interesting…Worth mentioning for those not so keen in new technologies that "10-10" long distance services are also a very popular an easy alternative to enjoy cheap long distance calls. How it works? You simply dial the "10-10" plan's 7-digit access code, and then the area code and number you wish to call - and receive the discounted rates offered by the "10-10" company. This is an easy way to take advantage of lower rates - without having to sign-up, internet or switching your long distance company. The Internet is a great resource for finding the rates and numbers of "10-10" companies in your area.



For example, you can now call Australia, Canada and most European countries for only 1¢ per minute by simply calling 1010228 before each call (e.g. 1010228 + 011 + country code + number you wish to call). http://www.1010228.com is one of the leading discount "10-10" numbers in the US for interstate and international calls.

Rich said...

I have been using this service for a couple of weeks now. I have successfully called landlines in the US (New York & Cleveland) and France (Paris). The service worked well and was better than Skype as far as call quality goes. However, I still haven't been able to get through on a US mobile / cell phone number. In all this is a useful service and I prefer it to Skype.

Improbulus said...

Thanks anon. We do have the equivalent of 10-10 services in the UK and they're popular here too, especially as the access code can be shorter than 7 digits.

Rich, thanks for your comment, it's good to know that you've successfully used it at least for a few calls. I really would like to use this service but I can't spare the time (nor do I want to waste my own money on credits) to keep trying!

Anonymous said...

I'm very disapointed - it just doesn't work. I heard that the founders where involved with Babble.net (which does work and the calls are cheaper). Maybe they should have stayed and made the two work together

;-)

Improbulus said...

Thanks for the comment Anon, so it doesn't work for you either... Maybe I should go try Babble.net now!

Bill said...

Thanks for testing this one for me. I gave up when I realized the steps I would have to go through. Your perseverance is appreciated!

Bill said...

Improbulus,
Thank you very much for testing this product. I started trying to use it and found there were too many hoops to jump through.
Your perseverance is appreciated!

Improbulus said...

Thanks for you comments Bill. I agree, there are a lot of hoops, and it's particularly frustrating when at the end of it you find that your credit's gone and you've not been able to make a single call!

Dan said...

Not sure what this article is all about, I've been using Connect Me Anywhere for years and had maybe one call issue. I emailed support and they reimbursed my credit immediately.

RE mobile number, I'm guessing they need your mobile number in registration as you need to call from a registered phone to access the service. Though I registered using my landline number in the "mobile number" box and it still worked. Sounds like they need to change "mobile number" to "phone number"

The seller for me is that service offers extras I've struggled to find anywhere else. Such as, I can assign a local rate phone number to each one of my friends/family wherever they are in the world. To me the number is like making any local call, e.g. 0207 number if I'm in London, but it connects me worldwide - and for 1p per minute!

Anyway, sorry about the long post. I just think the service is pretty cool, competitively priced and it's only failed for me once in the past 2 years so the article above doesn't do it justice