e-Mail to Bypass Phone Charges

By Eric Auchard

Jangl Inc., one of a new class of Web-telephone calling companies, is introducing a way to call over the Internet that bypasses traditional phone networks and uses e-mail to provide privacy from unknown callers.

The service, available on Wednesday, allows users to place calls as well as to send text messages or send or receive voicemail -- all via the Internet, rather than voice networks.

It helps consumers place long-distance calls, globally, to anyone with an e-mail address and a phone, for about the cost of a dime.

Jangl, now available in 31 countries in Europe, North America and Hong Kong, is a novel system tied to e-mail addresses, Web links and virtual voicemail that conceals the complexity of remembering lots of different phone numbers.

Communicating long-distance becomes a matter of looking up a friend or associate's name and clicking on it. Behind the scenes, the Jangl system goes to work, routing the call over the Internet to any phone you specify, whether the caller on the other end of the line has used Jangl or not.

"We offer something no one else can offer, which is unconditional privacy," Michael Cerda, Jangl's co-founder and its chief executive, said in an interview. "If I have privacy, I am now willing to give all these other services a try."

The past year has seen the rise of Web-calling start-ups from Jajah to Jangl to Jaxtr to Grand Central -- all inspired by the success of Skype, which so far has wooed 200 million users for free or low-cost calls between computers and phones.

Newer rivals to Skype are seeking to improve on ideas from decade-old dial-around services where callers use complicated phone numbers to bypass long-distance charges. They are using the Web to add sophisticated new features.

Jangl's latest service is targeted at the social networking generation -- younger Web users who are comfortable forging relationships online and for whom phone calls are often secondary to text messages, instant messaging or e-mail.

The advantage Jangl offers over other Web-calling alternatives is that calling numbers remain private. Callers who you don't know go straight to voicemail on Jangl's site. Callers you no longer wish to hear from are easily blocked.

For users of social networks like MySpace or Facebook, who are often stereotyped as being shamelessly unconcerned about their privacy, the Jangl service gives them control over who calls them -- similar to how instant message systems like AIM, Yahoo or MSN allow users to keep in close touch with buddies, but help them hide from or block unwelcome contacts.

"Your phone number is also your identity. You don't want to have to give it out to just anyone on the Web," Forrester analyst Charlene Li said. "Jangl gives you a unique phone number for every single relationship. That gives users control over who can and cannot reach them."

Calls are free for the first month the service is in operation. Details can be found at

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Jangl launched a basic Web-based version of its service in November

2006. It has distribution deals with social network
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and TypePad, the software that powers many blogs.

Jangl also powers the calling service on dating site

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, allowing members to call each other without sharing their numbers. So far it has signed up 500,000 users through its partnerships and direct sign-ups, officials said.

"We have created here a model that welcomes people very quickly into our service," Jangl's other co-founder Ben Dean said. "What is beautiful is how someone who may never have heard of Jangl can become a user in minutes."

The Pleasanton, California-based company has 18 employees. Backers include Cardinal Venture Capital, Labrador Ventures and Storm Ventures, which together have invested $9 million.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.

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