A service for deaf and disabled people that simulates SMS texting, but at a fraction of the cost, has been launched by a British company.
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter
Anyone with a GPRS mobile handset or PDA can download the Chatterbox software and can then give free copies to up to 50 friends.
Chatterbox is available to anyone with a GPRS phone
"It works by emulating text messaging over the internet," Chatterbox managing director, Ted Beagley, told BBC News Online.
"It reduces the typical cost of a text message from 8p to 0.8p - and some mobile contracts will even allow up to 3000 of these messages to be sent free of charge every month."
The system, MX Chat, works by converting a text message into data and sending it via the internet to the Chatterbox server.
The receiving phone then converts it back so that it appears as a text message.
"It looks almost the same as sending and receiving an SMS," said Mr Beagley.
The difference is that Chatterbox users can only exchange messages with other Chatterbox users - a bit like sending and receiving instant messages via Yahoo or MSN.
Mr Beagley's partner in the Chatterbox venture, Ruth Gibson, is deaf herself and was spending in excess of £100 every month texting her sister.
Ted Beagley and Ruth Gibson hope Chatterbox will spread like a virus
"A lot of equipment for disabled people looks very clinical, and the great thing about this is that it uses an ordinary phone," she said.
A year's licence for the Chatterbox software costs £99.
The company hopes that when people start to use the system as 'friends' they will become so hooked that they will buy their own copy and it will spread like a virus.
Mr Beagley says clubs and other organisations might consider running their own Chatterbox servers so that they could maintain a private network.
He also plans to launch a PC version once he has acquired sufficient server capacity.