Ring in the GrandCentral

49 Comments

Our digital lives are getting too complicated. We have multiple email accounts, IM accounts and ever increasing number of voice lines (cellular, landline, and VoIP) — all to stay connected. While tools like Adium help us aggregate our IM accounts, and email clients can serve as catch-all for multiple email accounts, that ability to aggregate has eluded us in the voice world.

Sure there have been attempts at unified messaging before, but none has been able to solve the usability problem. Others might remember the follow me-find me service, Wildfire, which tried to make sense of an ever increasing tally of phone numbers. GrandCentral, a Fremont, California based company is launching a brand new service that at first blush proves to be a worthy descendant of all those services, and offers an easy to use tools for the hyper connected.
GrandCentral, for those who are keeping score used to be the name of a company started by Halsey Minor, to do something. It got lot of press and didn’t really go anywhere. All that was left was the name. That was good enough for Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet, former executives from DialPad, which was acquired by Yahoo back in the day when mojo still ruled.


With some investment from Minor Ventures and a name, the two executives kicked off the company on Jan 4, 2006. Their plan was to build a service that gave you a phone number for life. (Well, that is a story we have heard before, and have heard of nightmares that follow when start ups that make grandiose promises go under.)

Maybe that is why we were skeptical when we met with Walker and Paquet to get close look at their service, that is based on a special softswitch developed by the company.
So what is GrandCentral? It is as we said, a phone number for life. “The idea is to add a layer of anonymity to your real phone numbers,” says Walker. “We give you complete control over your voice services and voicemail.”

You go to their website, sign-up, and get a free account. (It comes with 100 minutes of calling. An unlimited plan costs $15 a month.) After signing up, you get a phone number, say, 415.555.1212. You add your home, office, and wireless numbers to this account.

When someone calls you on the number you get from GrandCentral, the incoming call is routed to any one of your phones. The call can go directly to the voice mail box, if you choose to do that. Voicemails can be saved for as long as you want. You get an email alert, and can check your messages from any of the listed numbers, without much trouble.

You, can upload your address book, and set rules that can help manage your incoming call flow. For instance, if you are working in the office, all incoming calls from your mother in law can be forwarded to well, a voicemail box. Similarly you can assign “people” who can reach you anytime, regardless of your location. (Your kid’s school teacher would be a good option.)

GrandCentral has taken the concept of spam list from email and has applied it to voice mail. For instance, if an annoying telemarketer is calling you, you can click on their phone number and put them in a spam list. Same holds true for banishing stalkers, but that’s a story for another day.

I particularly like the listen in feature that allows you to listen to voicemails in real time, and actually interrupt the voicemail and start the conversation – just like those old message machines. There are other nifty features, many of them which you can discover yourself, which make GC very useful. (There is an awesome feature for podcasters, and it involves #4. Go solve the mystery.)

Like jangl and iotum, GrandCentral has the right approach to VoIP. It is not a minute stealer like Rebtel, or low cost PSTN replacement like Vonage. It solves a specific problem, is relatively easy to use, and their business is not predicated on destroying someone else’s business. It can increase mobile minute use, and of course, in the end help me manage my time better.

What do you think? Is there a future for service like GrandCentral?

49 Comments

nathaniel pirchesky

Wish to tregister for grandcentral voip service for telephone use.
Thank you

Bryden Dintson

I went to sign up for ringcentral because of their “rollover minutes”
What a surprise – they are not what I understand rollover minutes to be.

Rollover minutes are typically defined as any minutes in your monthly plan that are not used can rollover to the next month.
Not in RingCentrals eyes.
They say rollover minutes, but what they really offfer is just a one time block of 100 minutes that can be used anytime within your first year.
It confused me and nearly got me to sign up for something that is contrary to what i expected.
Shame on RingCentral

Darren

I have had a service just like this from Bell Canada for over 10 years. Single Number Reach as it’s called now (formerly PrimeLine) allows me to have calls go to multiple numbers at once, have specific callers go to voicemail. Allow me to check messages online. etc etc etc..

..big deal, just a big backer behind an old idea..

granduser

Gigi — You can dial your grandcentral number from a phone listed on your account to login to your voicemail system and listen to messages.

Gigi

The only really really annoying feature of GrandCentral is how it forces you to log into the web interface to retrieve a voicemail by hand every single time. This is actually SLOWER than old fashioned dialing in to get messages. Why not just send the message as an attachment in e-mail, instead of just sending “You have a voicemail, now go get it.” This is unfriendly/unhelpful. I could save two or three minutes PER CALL if the original e-mail included the MP3 to start with.

stevierayjon

oops! Disregard my previous post.
it was user error (of course)
D’oh!

jon

stevierayjon

Grand central just trashed my cell phone.
NO ONE CAN CALL MY CELL NUMBER ANYMORE…IT DOES NOT RING. HELP!!!!

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