3jam Launches Virtual Numbers, Takes Google Voice Head-On

Google Voice has been making a lot of headlines lately, but not for the reasons you’d hope. The service is already running into frustrating opposition from Apple and possibly AT&T (depending on who you believe). Today, it’s getting opposition of a different kind: 3jam, a company that until now has primarily offered services that revolve around SMS messaging, is expanding to offer telephony services that will be going head to head against Google Voice.

3jam offers many of the same core features offered by Google Voice, including the ability to have one phone number ring multiple phones, as well as an online interface for managing voicemail and text messages, though there are some more advanced features that it lacks (more on that later). But it does have a few features that Google Voice doesn’t, like the ability to receive calls on Skype, AOL, and Yahoo Messenger (why waste minutes when you’re sitting in front your your computer anyway?)

3jam also has some impressive SMS functionality, which makes sense given the company’s history with SMS. One of these is a group SMS chat, that lets you designate a new phone number as a ‘group number’ and then pick out which of your contacts is in your group. Every time someone within the group sends a message to that number, it will be sent to everyone else in the group as well. Outsiders can attempt to send messages to the special number, but it won’t have any effect.

3jam is also trying to tackle one of the biggest problems facing Google Voice: number portability, which allows you to transfer your current phone number to the new service. We’ve heard that Google is trying to work out the details to get his feature out the door some time this year, but it poses many logistical problems. For one, users could potentially cancel their carrier contracts on accident, leading to hefty fees. And the wait to get a number transfered from the carrier to the service can take weeks. But that isn’t stopping 3jam. The company is letting users transfer their numbers despite these hurdles, though users will be warned that the process may take as long as 45 days.

So 3jam has some things going for it, but it still lags behind Google Voice in some key areas. 3jam lacks many of Google Voice’s more advanced features, like call filtering options — Google Voice lets you set up lists of users and filter calls accordingly (for example I could send certain people straight to voicemail after 6PM but let my family call me at any time), while 3jam doesn’t offer any similar features. And 3jam costs money, with plans starting at around $5 a month (Google Voice is free for most features).

Of course, the market for this kind of service is huge, so 3jam may have a chance even with Google Voice in the same space, but it still has many obstacles ahead. The concept is still quite novel to most people, and some may resist putting their telephony service in the hands of a startup. And 3Jam is going to have to face the same problems Google has when it tries to bring its service to smartphone handsets, though carriers may be less intimated by a startup than they are of Google.

Despite these challenges, 3jam is off to a fairly good start. The company is offereing a white label product that has been licensed by Peek, a company that makes small mobile communication devices. Now for the bigger challenge: getting normal people to understand and sign up for the service.

For more, check out the site’s presentation here.