GRAND RAPIDS — For the last few years, BestNet Communications Corp. has been focused on the development of technology for Web-enabled calling.
Now, with its products already built and proven and being used both domestically and internationally, the company has morphed from a development company to a marketing company.
That metamorphosis is part of the reason BestNet recently relocated its headquarters from Tucson to here.
BestNet, a publicly held and traded company, has exclusive worldwide licensing rights for the technology that teams existing phone equipment with the Web to access inexpensive long-distance and conference calling services from anywhere in the world.
It’s the first company with a patented technology to launch phone calls via the Internet back onto a publicly switched phone network, said Robert Blanchard, president and CEO. BestNet proprietary software initiates the call, then switches it to standard phone service carrier lines.
“We don’t use the Internet to actually connect calls between two callers; we use the same phone system you have in your home and office. The publicly switched network is the oldest, largest, most reliable network in the world.
“We have a proprietary, patented technology on our Web site and in our products that allows us to use any device that has Internet access to initiate a call to another number anywhere in the world.”
Soft Talk Inc. of Toronto developed the technology and is BestNet’s largest shareholder. BestNet’s agreement with Soft Talk gives it authority to do all sales marketing, customer service, billing, and sub-licensing of the product, Blanchard said. Some 15 distributors in the U.S. and abroad are licensed by BestNet to sell the service.
That technology is at the heart of Bestnetcall service, which allows callers to launch calls via their desktop PC or laptop, or handheld devices such as Palm and Pocket PC, using any standard or wireless phone.
BestNet launched Bestnetcall in April 2000, tested the product with large corporate accounts last year, and began introducing it to the market a few months ago.
The service reduces the cost of calling internationally because its rate structure is based on low-cost tariffs. Consumers, as well as companies both large and small, can see savings of 40 percent to 70 percent immediately with no hardware or software costs, Blanchard said.
The service also allows savings of 80 percent or more over operator-assisted conference calls.
“I think we probably have one of the most inexpensive conference calling rates in the world,” he noted. “There can be a lot of hidden costs in conference calling. With ours, there are no fees and no extra charge per line.”
Bestnetcall doesn’t require purchase or installation of any special hardware or software or any changes to existing phone systems or equipment. It’s not the same as voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP), Blanchard pointed out. Once the call is initiated over the computer or handheld device, the Internet connection is no longer needed.
When a caller punches in the desired number and hits “dial,” the number is sent out over the Internet to one of BestNet’s switches located in Los Angeles, New York or Toronto. When it hits the switch, the technology deciphers the number the caller wants to reach and that switch calls the caller back.
“When you pick up the phone, it initiates the call and you’re done with the Internet part of it, and you’re on the regular telephone equipment talking to your party but at a discounted rate,” Blanchard explained. “Most of our clients save between 40 to 70 percent of their long-distance calling fees.”
As yet, BestNet hasn’t done any marketing outside of North America, but it already has calls that are being initiated from accounts set up in 120 countries around the world, Blanchard said.
“One of the beauties of the Internet is that if you have Internet access you have access to information. If people are looking for that information via the Internet and find us, they have the ability to sign up immediately, put in a credit card and make a long-distance or conference call immediately.”
Over the past few months, BestNet has consolidated its administrative operations in Tucson and most of its network and support customer service in Toronto. Five of the company’s 12 employees will likely relocate here.
BestNet’s board originally considered relocation to Atlanta or Chicago, but Blanchard, a Grand Rapids native, asked the board to consider the Grand Rapids market.
The board did their own due diligence, looking at everything from the cost of doing business here, to IT infrastructure, space availability, and flights in and out of Grand Rapids, he said, and found “a very compelling business case” that Grand Rapids would be a great market.
“We clearly are looking at all those factors that we think can positively affect the growth of our business, from the SmartZones to everything else that would be available to us as a public company coming to Michigan. We think we can attract the right kind of employees and grow our business plan here successfully.”