With the war in Gaza still going on with little end in sight, keeping in touch with friends and family in Israel, especially the southern area, can be costly.
However, a new Israeli-based Internet phone company is allowing people to make free calls anywhere in the world — including southern Israel.
Poketalk.com was started by Jewish students who are currently attending university in Israel.
Shai Genish and David Ben-Israel are Jews originally from the United States who crossed the Atlantic to further their education. Eight months ago they launched a Web site that allows people to make calls from their cellular or landline phone to any other phone in 65 countries for free.
“We started this to help the Jewish community to stay connected with the Israeli community for free,” Ben-Israel said.
Now in their third year of school, pursuing degrees in business administration and finance, Poketalk.com has over 70,000 registered users across the globe.
How does it work?
Users log onto the company’s Web site and input the phone number of the phone they are calling from and the number of the person they would like to call. The Web site calls both phones and you are connected almost instantly with the person you’re calling. The quality of the call is crystal clear, as if you were calling phone to phone, as the service doesn’t use Internet connections; it uses your everyday phone line.
While many might compare it to the popular Skype program that allows users free calls to anywhere in the world, Ben-Israel and Genish said Poketalk.com is very different.
“Poketalk.com is phone to phone, Skype is computer to computer,” Ben-Israel said. “It’s just like a call if you pick up your phone.”
Skype requires that both users be by their computer when the call is made, and that the quality of the call is not always great. Since Poketalk.com goes right through phone lines, it gives the users much more flexibility and high quality calls.
On Poketalk.com, users are allowed 50, 10-minute phone calls a month. However, during the crisis in Gaza, if you are calling the southern part of Israel or Gaza (an 08 area code) users can make unlimited 30-minute phone calls.
Ben-Israel and Genish said that the promotion would continue until the war is over.
The company is also offering readers of The Jewish Chronicle an exclusive promotion. Once logged into the Poketalk.com users can enter in the promo code: pittchron, and receive 100, 10-minute calls a month, as well as have their first three calls be 20-minutes long.
Ben-Israel and Genish understand that in this time of crisis, people want to stay in touch with those overseas.
With the current conflict, a majority of the calls the company makes are to Israel or from Israel.
“Around 80 percent of our users are in Israel or calling Israel,” Genish said. “We are focusing on people getting the people in Canada, the U.S. and Israel to speak between themselves.”
The calls are completely free via the Web site thanks to scrolling advertisements on the pages. However, they don’t interfere with making or receiving calls. The enticing free part can sometimes make users uneasy.
“A lot of people have a hard time believing it exists, but it does,” Genish said. “It really is free. That’s our biggest barrier when explaining it to people that it’s free.”
While the initial purpose of the company was to keep those in Israel connected with others around the world, the company is growing.
“We are always looking to expand,” Ben-Israel said. “We would like to go to as many countries as possible.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)