Catch-A-Call allows Internet users to receive online live calls

OK, so you’re tired of missing those important phone calls or faxes because you are online. But what can you do? Your first reaction might be to install a costly second phone line or a dedicated high-speed Internet line. However, according to technical reporter Walter Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, despite all the buzz about high-speed Internet lines, the vast majority of Internet users still rely on standard phone lines. That being the case, there are several new, high-tech devices and services available that allow you to receive phone calls while online.

“With an estimated 143 million Americans surfing the Internet, consumers are increasingly getting annoyed with missing important phone calls or faxes because their line is ringing busy,” says Mark Kalinowski, former director of engineering for the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Rather than installing a second phone line to alleviate the problem, consumers want a convenient and more cost-effective option that provides the same benefits without the monthly high price tag.”

According to Kalinowski, there are several solutions currently available for home offices, small businesses, freelance writers, college students, stay-at-home moms and busy families who face the problem of missing important phone calls while being online. “The devices and services being offered vary greatly, so consumers really need to shop around before deciding which option is best for them,” says Kalinowski.

There are two basic solutions: small one-time purchase units and monthly services. Each option allows you to receive phone calls while online. Two of the more popular options are Catch-A-Call, a small device manufactured by International Electronics, and AOL Call Alert—a monthly service. Both allow you to find out who is calling while you’re online instead of missing the call, but as Kalinowski notes, there are some important differences.


With Catch-A-Call, dial-up Internet users can receive live calls while online. Connections are automatically placed on hold when the user answers an incoming phone call.

When someone calls while you’re online, the device rings just like a telephone and lights up a red light. If you decide to answer, simply pick up the phone and speak to the caller. In the meantime, your Internet connection is automatically placed on hold for up to 25 seconds. (Other products may imply you can speak on the phone for extended periods of time, but Kalinowski points out that it is impossible to be online and on the phone for an indefinite period of time without being disconnected.) If you hang up before this time, your Internet connection remains intact. If you choose to speak longer, the ISP may disconnect you. In this case, once you’re finished with your conversation, simply hang up and hit “re-fresh” or “re-load” and your computer will redial and go right back where you left off.

Unlike other services, Catch-A-Call actually allows you to pick up the phone and speak to the caller. It is also answering machine and voice mail compatible. So, you have the option of not answering the phone call. The call then will go to your machine voice mail. In fact, Catch-A-Call only requires call waiting, which most households have.

The unit is convenient and easy to hook up, with no software to install. Just plug the device into any phone, fax (optional), and wall jack and you are ready to surf the Web. It works with any operating system, including IBM and MAC. Catch-A-Call works with any existing telephone system, including cable telephone service, as well as distinctive ringing services.


AOL Call Alert is a service that allows AOL members only to identify that they are receiving a phone call while they are online. With AOL, you get a notification on the screen that someone is calling, and you can take or send a message, but cannot take the call live, like Catch-A-Call can.

When an AOL member receives a phone call while signed on, a notification will appear in a small window on the screen. It will display the name, phone number, city and state of the caller and offers options on how to respond to the call.

The member can allow the call to go unanswered or can respond with a pre-recorded reply. If the caller leaves a voice message, a second window will appear and enable the member to click on one of two buttons “Listen Now” or “Listen Later.” If the member decides to listen later, the voice message is sent directly to the member’s AOL Mailbox. The voice message will appear on the same list as other e-mail messages, but with a telephone icon next to its title. The member can then click on the voice message to listen to it, forward it as an audio file to another e-mail address or save it for future reference.

The service has some downsides, however—AOL Call Alert is not voice mail compatible; you are required to contact the phone company and disconnect your voice mail altogether. In addition, AOL Call Alert requires a monthly premium for the service, and members’ local phone companies charge a monthly fee for call-busy-forward, which is required with AOL Call Alert. Phone companies may also charge a one-time setup fee.

“As you can see, there are many options to consider when choosing a product that will allow online users to receive phone calls while online,” says Kalinowski. “But with a little homework, consumers are sure to find the unit or service that best fits their individual household needs.”

For the 65 million dial-up Internet users who are missing important phone calls while online, using a one-time purchase unit or monthly service, are both viable alternatives to installing a costly second phone line or a dedicated high-speed Internet line. It really comes down to a matter of preference. However, if you want to take your own messages, and don’t want to pay a monthly service fee, the Catch-A-Call is probably your best bet.

For more information on International Electronic’s products, call (888) 679-7994 ext. 102, Tuesday through Friday or, go to

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