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Virtual answering machine offers second-line solution

Broadband is available in most areas these days, but there are still places where dialup is the only solution. And, of course, if you are on the Internet and you get a phone call, they get a busy signal. The solution is to get a second phone line, but if you can't afford broadband or a second phone line in this economy, check out the Internet Answering Machine from CallWave. It's an application you can download from CallWave's website. After installation, you register your phone number with CallWave and your busy signal woes are history.

The Internet Answering Machine program runs in the background as you surf the Net. When someone tries to call while you're online, Internet Answering Machine generates a phone ringing sound through your computer's speakers. A dialog box opens on your screen and displays Caller ID information with the caller's name and phone number.

At the same time, the caller hears a standard telephone ring instead of a busy signal. Since Internet Answering Machine emulates an answering machine, the caller next hears an announcement that says you're on the Internet. After the greeting, they are asked to leave their name, number and message after the tone. As soon as the message is left, CallWave instantly streams the recorded message to your computer which is played over your computer's speakers.

As with an answering machine, all messages are stored to be played again or at a later time. This feature is especially useful if several people are using the same phone line and wish to check their messages. Just click on the message number and the stored recording is played.

As with any answering machine message, you can determine whether to return the call immediately or wait until you finish your Internet session. You can also interrupt the message if you are listening to it live. Just click the Talk button and you can go live with the actual phone call. When you log off, your one line becomes available for incoming and outgoing calls as normal.

What makes the Internet Answering Machine really interesting is that you don't pay your local phone company for Caller ID service. Normally, you need to have Caller ID available in your area for it to work. But since the Caller ID information comes from CallWave, the Caller ID service must be available from the area with which the calls are being placed. If it's available, then CallWave passes the Caller ID data to its Internet Answering Machine program and you see the name and number of the caller on your screen. If not, you see the typical "Out of Area" displayed and you must rely on the recorded message for that information. In many cases you can also block telemarketing calls via this ability.

The only service you need to make all of this work is Busy Call Forwarding. Depending on where you live, this feature is usually as inexpensive as Call Waiting. To make things more convenient, CallWave can add the service to your phone line directly from their website.

But if you're pinching every penny and don't want the Call Forward Busy service charge, CallWave can still make all of it work for free. CallWave offers a free 800 number you can give out as an alternative number to call when someone gets your busy signal. To set this free service up, you register your phone number at CallWave's website to CallWave's 800 number. When someone calls the toll free number, they are prompted to enter your phone number. From there, the Internet Answering Machine proceeds to function just as it would if someone were to call you directly.

CallWave is $7.95 a month after the free 30-day trial period. There are other alternative service rates available, so it's best to visit the CallWave website (www.callwave.com) for more details.

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