Gotalk and Blackhawk networks snipe at Skype

Rapidly growing telco Gotalk has signed an exclusive agreement with US-based company Safeway to bring the Blackhawk gift card network to Australia.

The Blackhawk network, a part of the popular US gift card "Store-on-a-Stand" kiosk, sells many different telco gift cards as a part of its service. Gotalk's CEO Steve Picton hopes that by bringing the kiosks to Australia, and selling VoIP gift cards through them, Gotalk can eat into Skype's market share.

"Skype is a prepaid product -- not much different to a phone card," Picton says. "However, not everyone wants to -- or can access a credit card to pay for Skype -- and other ways to pay for the service are laborious. With VoIP phone cards, you buy the card, download the software from the Web site and make calls from there.

"Where Skype is focused on paying by credit card, prepaid cards are definitely more accessible for people who prefer to use cash."

Unlike conventional phone cards, VoIP prepaid cards do assume that the user has a degree of technical understanding. However, the process of downloading the software and activating the account is explained on the card, and Picton promises that "it's just as easy to use as Skype".

Recharging the card for more call credit should pose no difficulty either. "You can of course recharge anywhere you can buy the card," Picton says. "To recharge the card there are 18,000 retail points and you can also recharge the card at Australia Post, and online using BPAY."

According to Picton, another advantage the prepaid cards have over Skype is their versatility. In addition to providing credit for VoIP calls, the prepaid cards can be used as regular phone cards. With no monthly access fee, Picton says the prepaid cards "are giving consumers greater choice with what to do with the money they spend on calls".

The Blackhawk kiosks will launch in Australia and New Zealand by Christmas. The number of kiosks that will be initially available is not confirmed, but Gotalk promises "hundreds".

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