First there was CallNet; but on Friday X-Stream jumped on the bandwagon with another 0800-access, 24-hour, seven day a week Internet service.
X-Stream is approaching its offer, which it is careful to term a "trial", with a great deal more caution. Anyone can sign up to access the Net through an 0800 number, avoiding local call charges, provided they have the 3.5 version of X-Stream's software -- but Paul Myers, managing director of X-Stream, is not promising miracles. "Everyone can try to get on but there is a good chance they will get an engaged tone," he said.
"This shouldn't be seen as a brand new service. We are trying it out and seeing how it goes. Some days everyone will be able to connect and at other times it will be busy," he added.
Myers is scathing about the CallNet service. "They screwed up," he said. "They thought they had enough capacity and they didn't have a clue what they were talking about."
A CallNet spokesman hit back, claiming it had plenty of users enjoying its free service. "I don't think 100,000 users would say we messed up," he said. He welcomes the new competition: "We're happy to see established companies like X-Stream follow our lead."
X-Stream also criticised the new flat-rate Internet call plan from British Telecom (quote: BT), with Myers calling it "too little, too late". The plan has been blasted as too expensive for most consumers, although others have said it would reduce their phone bills substantially.
X-Stream has limited its capacity for the service although it is unwilling to say how many users the system will support or how many people it anticipates taking up the offer. Users will not have to change telephone company and the offer will be supported by advertising. "We know we can support it by advertising revenue alone as we already make more money from ads," Myers said.
To access X-Stream's services users must have specialised software that displays advertising while the user is connected. CallNet's service aims to make back its costs by selling a cut-rate telephone service.