If memory serves, it was the Carpenters who popularized that '70s tune "We've Only Just Begun." Bad leisure suit visual aside, that's a pretty good description of where the phone business is headed.
Increasingly, you'll be able to buy premium phone services a la carte without a service call or hardware installation and at pretty reasonable monthly rates. For example, CallWave has a new $4 per month offering called CallWave for Mobile that lets you reroute your cellular calls to any landline or IP-based phone you like.
Mobile Call Screening is simple in operation but lets you do a remarkable thing: listen in while folks leave messages on your cell phone. One button lets you grab the call or forward it to any other phone, conserving those precious cell minutes. Otherwise, the caller's message gets forwarded to your e-mail. Your callers get a toll-free number to use, leaving your current cell number available, and you can take the call on another line even if your cell phone is turned off.
CallWave for Your Home is the latest add-on to a suite of CallWave services that already lets you swap landline and IP calls. For just $8 per month, you can get new toll-free and local numbers whose incoming calls can be forwarded to any landline, cell or IP phone number. An alert on your PC tells you who is calling and, if you don't pick up, any message is forwarded to your e-mail inbox as a WAV file attachment. Faxes to your dedicated CallWave fax number (you get three lines total) arrive as PDF attachments. Competitors such as RingCentral sell other bundles of services.
CallWave's president and CEO, Dave Hofstatter, estimates that about an eighth of the company's customers are entrepreneurs giving customers in far-flung markets local numbers to call, or providing co-workers who need them with "fax machines" in their inboxes. Individual accounts are set up and managed entirely on CallWave's website, with monthly charges added to a credit card or phone bill.
It's all part of the next step in telecom's evolution: You'll be able to mix and match the services you want and who you want providing them.