Matt Richtel in the NY Times reports that SunRocket is no more:
SunRocket, one of the largest start-up companies offering Internet phone service, has ceased operation and is moving its customers to one or more other companies, a person briefed on its status said yesterday.
A message on SunRocket’s customer service line said the company was “no longer taking customer service or sales calls.” Executives of SunRocket, which is based in Vienna, Va., and had 200,000 subscribers as of April, could not be reached for comment.
The development underlined the struggles of start-ups trying to make a business out of providing Internet-based phone service, telecommunications industry analysts said.
The companies face enormous pressure from the biggest competitors in the industry, both cable and traditional phone service providers. The cable companies in particular have made a strong push into the telephone market by offering the service as part of a package with television and Internet access.
SunRocket was reportedly the second largest independent VoIP company after Vonage.
Lost in the din of last week’s Apple iPhone launch was the announcement of an interesting service in the USA from T-Mobile called HotSpot @Home that combines the best of cellular phones and low cost Wi-Fi VoIP (technically, it’s GSM over IP).
Cheap phone calls are a little off my beaten path, but I was interested in the story of Futurephone:
The first question most people seem to ask when they hear about Futurephone.com is: What’s the catch?
It turns out there really isn’t much of one. Eventually — though not yet — you’ll have to listen to a short commercial before your call goes through.
Futurephone, a California startup company, has, for the last three weeks, been offering you the chance to call a number in Iowa, then enter a number you’re trying to reach in any of 50 other countries, and — bingo — you’re on the phone to Shanghai. Or Warsaw. Or Christmas Island.
We tried it, and it works. You call 712-858-8883, and a recorded voice answers, inviting you to hear brief instructions in English, Spanish or Chinese. Then you dial 011, the country code (51 for Peru, for instance, or 359 for Bulgaria) and the local number. If someone is there and awake to answer at the other end, you can talk to the other side of the planet — for whatever it cost you to make a call to Iowa.
What makes it all work is that the price of phone calls has been dropping dramatically, particularly since Futurephone uses VoIP to route the calls. They figure that they can make enough selling 10 second ads before each call to pay for the call and make a profit.
As for the Futurephone phone number in Iowa:
Where, by the way, are you calling when you reach 712-858-8883? It turns out to be an exchange in Superior, Iowa, a town of 142 people on the Iowa-Minnesota border. But Doolin says that’s simply a number his firm was able to use to route calls inexpensively.
More details at the Futurephone website.