Net2Phone brings voice over IP to telephones
By Tom Spring
(IDG) -- Net2Phone has your number. It's unveiling Wednesday a new service called VoiceLine that lets anyone call your Net2Phone voice-over-IP account by dialing a normal telephone number.
VoiceLine lets you place and receive telephone calls over broadband networks using standard telephones -- no PC is required. Previously, Net2Phone provided a way to skirt the phone company and place calls over the Internet using its telephone appliances at both ends of the call.
The company now claims to offer the first consumer service that lets you assign a standard telephone number to a voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) account and telephone. The result is potentially cheaper long-distance calling.
Here is how it works: Net2Phone sells you a telephone number for a one-time $20 fee. Inbound callers dial that telephone number from a standard phone, connecting them to the Net2Phone network. From there, the call is carried over the Internet to your Internet-based Net2Phone telephone.
Initially, to use Net2Phone VoiceLine service you'll need Net2Phone's $125 Aplio Rave hardware and the Linksys Voice Router, a $180 home networking device. To make Net-based calls, simply plug a telephone into either the Aplio Rave or Linksys device. Then connect the device to your cable or DSL modem.
At launch, only New York City phone numbers are available, but Net2Phone expects to soon offer exchanges for all major U.S. cities. Inbound calls cost the receiver nothing. But callers pay applicable toll rates. Outbound Net2Phone calls cost about 3.4 cents per minute.
During the next several months, Net2Phone plans to announce advanced browser-based telephone services such as voice mail, call forwarding, caller ID, and custom voice-portal functions, says Sarah Hofstetter, Net2Phone spokesperson. You can track your VoiceLine usage online and view call logs and bills.
Also, over this summer, inbound telephone service will be extended to other Internet telephony devices, and eventually to the Net2Phone software found in popular instant messaging clients like America Online's Instant Messenger.
Growing Interest in Net Talk
Internet calls cost less than conventional calls because they are routed over the public Internet network in packets that don't tie up a dedicated line, as traditional circuit-switched calls do. Quality issues plague Internet calls, however, because of problems with reassembling those packets of information.
"Services can be a lot better over broadband networks," says Ruth Chatterton, senior consultant with the research firm TeleChoice. But reliability and quality issues remain, she says.
While the VOIP industry is nascent, experts see it having huge potential as the lines between voice and data service grow increasingly fuzzy. Revenue from all types of Internet telephony services is expected to reach $18 billion by 2004, according to market researchers at IDC.
"Services like these are really where the telecom industry is going," says Elizabeth Farrand, an IDC analyst. She says Net2Phone's enhanced services are an early first glimpse at the convergence of voice and data services.
Net2Phone competitors DialPad Communications and Gemini Voice Solutions are both working to bring similar services to market later this summer through cable and DSL partners.
Meanwhile, major telephone and networking firms are gaining interest in the Internet voice services market.
In May, Cisco announced a line of Web-enabled telephones that send and receive phone calls and data over the Internet, offering customers an array of features and services, such as unified messaging. And in June, startup Jetstream Communications partnered with Panasonic to build a line of broadband phones that can handle multiple phone numbers over a single line.
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