Using tech to tackle hotel phone bills
The Internet may make huge hotel phone bills a thing of the past.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Tech-savvy business travelers are forcing a rethink on how hotels charge for long-distance communications, meaning that exorbitant phone bills on the road could soon be a thing of the past.
The advent of the cell phone has already had an impact on hotel call charges with most guests preferring to use their mobiles rather than clock up charges on their room rate.
But for international travelers, huge roaming costs or incompatible networks mean they may have no choice but to reach for the receiver in their room.
Now, with more hotels wiring up to provide in-room broadband Internet access, guests are able to plug into cheap -- or even free -- phone calls using a principle known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP.
Leading the way is Skype, a downloadable program that with the aid of a microphone and headset allows users to converse with colleagues, friends or family using similar Internet equipment at the other end.
For relatively small charges, it also enables people to call standard phone numbers.
The technology has the potential to save millions of pounds in the global corporate travel sector, a fact hotels now appear to be waking up to.
In New Haven, Connecticut, the Marriott-franchised Residence Inn hotel has become what is claimed to be the first outlet to offer free VoIP in its 112 rooms.
"Until now, hotel guests have paid a premium for the convenience of the long-distance service, which was appropriate when there were no cell phones and it really was a convenience," Adam Dubroff of TravelGlue, the company that wired the Residence Inn for VoIP, told CNN.
"But as technology has developed, it has become an old business model and the prices charged have been rendered exorbitant.
"Now, because of VoIP, there is an opportunity to provide guests with a phone service for free and I think this will be the norm in the future."
With more than 11 million registered users one year ago, and tens of thousands signing up every day, many business travelers have already embraced Skype or similar VoIP programs for staying in touch with head office -- and their families.
"As a new father, I though traveling overseas for business and away from my family would be unbearable," Aaron Olmsted of Salt Lake City, Utah, told CNN.
"Technology such as a Web cam and Internet phones such as Skype have really made it much more tolerable."
"Communication was always an issue with expats working overseas. Satellite telephones have helped me to keep in touch with my family but the per minute cost prohibited long or chatty calls," says Thomas Drown, a geologist working in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
"Now, I can talk to anyone in the world who has either a phone or an Internet connection. Now I can call my mom in Canada from my western Mongolia ger (round wool tent) field office any time of the day or night for just eight cents a minute."
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