Grandcentral - One Number to Reach You Anywhere

I was reading this post on the O'Reilly Radar site and learned of a relatively new startup Grand Central that is changing the rules of telephone numbers. Basically the idea is that you sign up with Grand Central and get a new unified telephone number. Then through their web site you "link" it to your existing phone numbers - cell phones, home, office, whatever. When people call your Grand Central number it will ring all the phones you've specified. You can also group various contacts to ring various numbers. It's fairly flexible and pretty cool. This is not so different from some other offerings that have been around in the past - I think MCI has a package similar to this a few years ago.

But Grand Central offers a few key features that are definitely not available from standard phone companies. One extremely cool feature is the ability to switch phones in the middle of a call. You press the star key on your phone and Grand Central disconnects you (but not the person you're talking to) and rings your phones again. This would be a killer feature for me, as my cell phone gets horrible reception at home and I'd love to be able to switch to my home VOIP line without having to hang up. I also carry a RAZR and a Blackberry and I don't typically use the Blackberry for voice, as nobody has the number - but with Grand Central I can switch to the Blackberry if the RAZR's battery is running low and it's fairly seamless to the calling party.

Another very cool feature of Grand Central is the ability to screen your calls. When you pick up a Grand Central call it tells you who's calling, or if they are unknown. You can then send the call to voice mail and even listen in while the person is leaving a message. At that point you are able to pick up the call - just as if it were being left on a physical home answering machine. Using this same technology you can also record phone calls and access them later via the web site. I'm sure podcasters everywhere will appreciate this feature.

The only downside I can see so far is that in their free beta, outbound calling is slightly kludgey. To make an outbound call you can return a call from voicemail, or you can make a call using the web interface. From what I can tell there is no way to initiate an arbitrary new call without using the web interface. This may not be a deal breaker if the web portal works with my Blackberry browser, but it's something they'll need to address before launching the paid service.

And of course there's the concern that trusting an unproven startup with no business model or revenue with your "number for life" may be dicey. Nevertheless, they have some extremely cool technology and I am looking forward to playing with it further.

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