AMSTERDAM Jaxtr, a Silicon Valley startup that lets users bypass a carrier's international phone charges via the Web, said on Wednesday it is offering free mobile phone text messages between 38 countries.
Jaxtr members can use a simple Web form to send a text message to a mobile phone in any of the supported countries, which include the United States, Brazil and Britain as well as Kenya, Slovenia and Ukraine.
The recipient can reply directly with their mobile phone, or click on a link, sign up to Jaxtr and send a free reply through their mobile phone's Web browser.
"We're opening up the service -- until now Jaxtr has been a member service, you couldn't call me unless I was a member ... with (messaging) we're opening it up for the first time," Jaxtr Chief Executive Konstantin Guericke told Reuters.
Jaxtr is one of dozens of companies to emerge in recent years that use Web technology as a substitute for more costly proprietary network services that telecom carriers offer to their customers.
Guericke said that unlike Skype, a unit of online auctioneer eBay Inc which competes directly with telecom carriers because its users can bypass traditional phone networks, Jaxtr is less of a threat because it requires all its users to have a phone to receive calls and text messages.
"Carriers are looking at what's happening with social networks ... They are a little concerned that everything will be just people sending e-mails to each other, or Facebook messages," he said.
Text messages will include a small ad -- a source of revenue for Jaxtr -- and the service is also meant to entice users to return to Jaxtr's Web site more often, which will also generate advertising income, Guericke said.
"If you want to have a service that is widespread, the only way to get it out there is to provide something that people want to share with their friends. That's the only way you can grow very rapidly," Guericke said, adding Jaxtr had already attracted 10 million users, mostly outside the United States.
The company plans to employ a model used by many Web firms with a basic service that is free and advertising-supported, and premium services for a fee. It does not yet offer paid-for services.
Jaxtr is working with wholesalers such as iBasis, majority owned by Dutch telecoms group KPN, to provide its service.
(Reporting by Niclas Mika; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)