A new service that lets people record a voice message and have it e- mailed to as many as 25 addresses simultaneously could provide business people and consumers with a faster, cheaper and more personal way of sending messages. The mail2speak service is being launched around the world by New York- based 2speak, which sees SA as a potential hot market.

The service works through the mail2speak website, which lets users send an e-mail giving their own details and phone number, and the e- mail addresses they want to contact.

The user is instantly called back on their landline or cellphone and asked to record their message. That voice file is then emailed to the chosen recipients, who listen to the message by clicking on a link contained in the e-mail. Neither party needs to download any special software, although recipients need speakers on their computer.

The scheme could also cut private or corporate phone bills, as people can contact up to 25 people around the world with a single message. Since the message can be archived like any other e-mail, it could be used as an official record of an agreement.

Companies could also use the service to alert customers to special offers, without sending an intrusive SMS or phone call.

The company charges in dollars according to the recording time, with the fees for SA working out at R1.76 a minute from a fixed-line phone and R3.44 from a cellphone.

The service could see Telkom losing money that customers would otherwise spend on phone calls. However, mail2speak is permissible even under Telkom's lingering monopoly, despite being a twist on callback services.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA has ruled that callback services requested by users making an initial telephone call to a foreign operator are illegal, but callbacks triggered by an e- mail or SMS are allowed. Since mail2speak users send an e-mail to ask the US company to call them back, the service appears to be permissible.

Business Day