A German student has developed a computer program for cheap telephoning via the internet.
Henrik Pfluger, 22, first hit on the idea of speaking into the computer rather than having to type messages when he was chatting with a friend via the internet from his student residence at Mannheim University, Germany.
Mr Pfluger, who is halfway through his degree in computer engineering, went to work on developing a program. Two years later, his student flat serves as the headquarters of his limited company, buddyPhone GmbH.
At buddyPhone.com, users can download the program free of charge and telephone all over the world, paying just for internet access. The only prerequisite for conversing between Dusseldorf and Tokyo or London and Washington is that both parties have a computer with a sound card and an internet connection. The computer microphone and loudspeaker replace the telephone handset function.
The service has an estimated 1 million users. It is so popular that it recently overloaded the university computer system and the server was temporarily closed down by technicians. "I think some of my professors are quite proud of me, but the technicians were sour for a while," Mr Pfluger said.
BuddyPhone now runs on the server of a Hamburg telecoms company with which Mr Pfluger is negotiating to turn buddyPhone into a German public limited company or an American corporation. He said: "We are making money, which is unbelievable for an internet company at the moment. We have so many users that we get a lot of revenue from advertising."
He hopes the Hamburg firm will help buddyPhone develop its marketing strategy and make technological improvements. The service, already available in English and German, is being translated into other languages.