It seems like everybody's offering you internet phone service. But AOL's Callways offers more than just voice calls.
Though it was hurt by the switch to broadband, the communications giant still counts 22 million subscribers willing to pay at least $15 per month to get stuff most web travelers get for free. That's because AOL wraps e-mail, IM, chat rooms, blogs and message boards into one comfy interface with common inboxes, address books and buddy lists. There's one-click access to just about everything you can find through web portals-from search to domain hosting to shopping--and the tools needed to exploit them all. Adding VoIP was a no-brainer.
For $30 a month ($40 after six months), Callways combines unlimited local and long-distance calling in North America with AOL's dizzying menu of other services. Alternative pricing is available for current subscribers, and instead of a dumb Public Switched Telephone Network adapter for your phone, AOL has been giving away (during rollout, at least) a 54Mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi router from premier networking companies Netgear or Link-sys. My subscription included Netgear's Wireless Router with Phone Adapter. It not only can be the cornerstone of your wireless network, but also has two ports for plain old telephone lines and is tuned for voice quality.
Callways itself has the usual VoIP features--voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, and call forwarding to home and cellular phones. Like most AOL services, it can travel on a laptop, PDA or cell phone, and you can retrieve both voice mail and e-mail from any touch-tone phone. AOL is also one of the few providers with Enhanced 911 emergency services in all its markets-a connection to emergency dispatchers comparable to landline 911.
Callways is incredibly easy to set up and use throughout. But its full menu comes with comparable computing overhead, and you've got ads-lots of ads. Of course, that's not a bad thing if you're an AOL advertiser tapping those 22 million users.
It's not for everyone, but Callways is a quick way for SOHO companies to get an all-in-one communications solution.