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VoIP Offer Up To 10 Phone Numbers

Vonage In Print News

Voip Customers Offered Up To 10 Phone Numbers

September 17, 2004

By Jon Van

If you think remembering your work, home and cell-phone numbers can be tricky, try recalling as many as 10 new numbers.

And not from one city's various area codes, either. You can have one for New York City's 212 area code and another from San Francisco's 415. How about a number for Mexico City, too?

Yesterday, AT&T Corp. rolled out a new product called Simple Reach to provide as many as 10 different phone numbers — each from a different city — to customers using its ''voice-over-Internet protocol'' phone service. And all of those numbers can be answered from one customer's phone.

Also yesterday, Vonage — the company that pioneered Voip — said its customers can get phone numbers from Mexico City if they like.

Both firms charge about $5 a month for each virtual number.

It works this way: For a Chicago customer with Voip numbers for San Francisco and Mexico City, friends or relatives who live in San Francisco or Mexico City can dial a local number to ring Chicago and avoid paying long-distance fees.

While the quality of Internet-based calls sounds much like regular phone calls, the underlying technology is more closely related to sending an e-mail than traditional, circuit-based phone service. As with Internet technology generally, Voip has little connection to geography.

But there could be a chaotic downside to having 10 phone numbers besides trying to keep track of them.

''If this catches on, we could be in for another real crunch for the phone number supply,'' said Seamus Glynn, associate director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago watchdog group. If several customers start assigning numerous phone numbers to the same line, the number supply will inevitably be strained, Glynn said.

The multiple phone numbers also allow callers to dodge long-distance fees. That will distort the traditional system of access fees that long-distance companies like AT&T pay local companies to complete calls, said Terry Barnich, a Chicago telecommunications consultant.

''VoIP is absolutely going to kill institutions we are familiar with. It's going to destroy a lot of the edifices that the old telecommunications regime is built upon. It's going to morph into new things and the government won't be able to control it.

''This is just the tip of the iceberg.''

AT&T's Cathy Martine, senior vice president for Internet telephony, endorsed that view in announcing the company's Simple Reach program.

''We have a pipeline of exciting new enhancements coming from AT&T Labs.''

Earlier this year, AT&T said it would stop marketing traditional local and long-distance phone service to residential customers and would instead actively promote VoIP. It is doing so by offering unlimited Voip calling in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands for just $20 a month for the first six months and $35 thereafter.

Customers must have a high-speed Internet connection to use Voip service, but their calls may be routed over private phone lines rather than the public Internet. They can talk to people who have traditional phone service.

The virtual-number offerings are ''more evidence that the current system is broke and needs to be fixed,'' said Dave Pacholczyk, a spokesman for San Antonio-based SBC Communications. ''The concept of long distance is vanishing, but the current rules — and inter-carrier compensation — are based on distinctions tied to geography. Those distinctions are disappearing because of technology.''

Industry observers doubt local companies will succeed in thwarting the incursion.

''VoIP is ultimately where telecom is going,'' said Jeffrey Kagan, an Atlanta-based telecom analyst. ''Local phone companies will offer Voip as well as traditional service. It'll take years for all the customers to shift, and some may never shift, but Voip is the future.''

Customers will benefit from having multiple numbers from different locales, said Pascal Aguirre, senior vice president for Boston telecom consultant Adventis.

''This represents adding value for customers. I can't think of an instance where something valuable to customers will be stopped.''

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

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HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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