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IP PBX for small business
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IP PBX for small business
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Internet Phones Arrive At Home (And Some Need No Computer)

May 5, 2005

By Daniel Terdiman

A few years ago, a buzz began spreading about Internet telephony, a technology allowing telephone conversations to be made across the Internet rather than exclusively over regular phone lines.

Such calls, made at little or no expense to the caller, were portrayed as a threat to the established phone companies. But the vision exceeded the actual experience, which early users likened to listening through mud.

More recently, Internet phone technology - also known as voice over Internet protocol, or Voip - made inroads into businesses using heavy-duty equipment from companies like Cisco.

Now, thanks to providers like Vonage and others, it has found its way into the home. The service is sometimes choppy, but costs are low and quality is satisfactory for routine calls. Moreover, Internet protocol lends itself to inexpensive videoconferencing as well, useful for informal video chats between friends or business associates.

For those with high-speed connections, Internet calling and videoconferencing are finally taking off. And as their use grows, so does the selection of tools. The latest Apple operating system, released last week, incorporates improved tools for online video chatting. And this week a new offering from Motorola, the Ojo, offers Internet picture-phone ability without a computer.

Internet Phones

Perhaps the simplest out-of-the-box Voip is the Netphone from IP Connection ( For $90 apiece and $25 annually, Netphones are about as plug-and-play as Voip gets. Just connect an Ethernet cable from a broadband source into the RJ45 Ethernet Netphone and another Ethernet cable from the Netphone to a PC. (Other models connect by Wi-Fi wireless networking or by U.S.B. cable.)

All Netphone-to-Netphone calls are free; calls to other phones are 2.9 cents a minute in the United States, Canada and parts of Western Europe, and somewhat higher elsewhere. Netphones have good-quality sound, with only a little background noise.

The chief disadvantage of a Netphone is that calling one from a regular phone requires dialing a 10-digit main number and then a separate 7-digit number.

In late summer, Vonage (, a pacesetter among Internet phone service providers, is to release the F1000, a device from UT Starcom that looks like a cellphone. Currently in beta or pre-release version, the F1000 is a Wi-Fi phone that uses a wireless connection.

The F1000, which is expected to cost under $100, offers sound quality that is mostly impressive although it suffers occasionally from breakup and hollowness. Still, those on the other end of the line will not notice much difference from a regular phone.

On an unencrypted wireless network, setup is quick. But entering a network password on the F1000's small keypad to get access to a locked network is tricky.

The F1000 will use regular Vonage service and cost $25 a month for unlimited calls in the United States and Canada (or 500 minutes of calls for $15 a month); connections to other countries will cost as little as 3 cents a minute.

For now, the best way to use Vonage service is to plug a broadband router into a home network and use any standard telephone. Vonage offers a 10-digit phone number for incoming calls and has a host of features like caller ID, call waiting and voice mail.

Another mobile Wi-Fi phone on the horizon for businesses is Motorola's CN620. It allows business users to talk anywhere inside their offices with Wi-Fi access.

The CN620's most innovative feature, however, is that it also operates on global system for mobile communications, or G.S.M., networks, and automatically switches from Voip to G.S.M. when a user strays beyond the range of a corporate Wi-Fi network. Its sound quality is at least as good as that of a regular phone. The CN620 should be ready for home offices later this year, and probably for regular consumer use by next year, according to Proxim, a Motorola partner involved in testing the phone.

Video Tools

When it comes to equipment for Internet-based videoconferencing, the leader is the iSight camera from Apple, a one-step extension of the iChat AV instant messaging application built into the Macintosh OS X operating system (

The iSight will never be mistaken for a business tool, but it offers unlimited high-quality video chatting for only $129 to anyone who also has an iSight. And it also allows video connections to those using an AOL Instant Messenger account and a U.S.B.-connected video camera.

The iSight is small enough to be mounted on a laptop. The downside is that if the computer moves too far from a wireless connection, the picture may become jerky and there is often a half-second lag. In Tiger, the version of OS X released last week, iChat AV enables videoconferencing for up to four people.

A nice, but costly ($799), alternative is the Ojo from Motorola ( This slick stand-alone device requires no computer, just an Ethernet connection to broadband Internet service, and offers clear, crisp and effortless two-way videoconferencing. The Ojo is aimed at households wanting video chatting with no delay and little or no jerkiness. Service will run $15 a month for unlimited video calls.

In most cases, the Ojo requires that the person on the other end of the call also have an Ojo, though it is compatible with any device using the Internet videoconferencing technology known as H.264, including the iSight. It also has a detachable phone that can call any regular phone number; a 10-digit number is assigned for incoming calls.

Another videoconferencing option that requires no computer is the Broadband Video Phone from Packet8 (

At $99, this may be the best overall choice for Voip enthusiasts; it offers fully functional video and audio calling at low cost.

The device looks much like an office phone but has a pop-up screen and can also be hooked up to a television. Its video quality is good but not great - flawless at times, but capable of quickly degrading, especially if either party moves quickly.

As a phone, though, it sparkles. It is hard to tell it is not a regular land line, and that factor separates the device from its peers. Also attractive is its ease of setup: plug in an Ethernet cable and you're all set.

Service for the device runs $19.95 a month for unlimited video calls and unlimited voice calls in the United States and Canada.

Not nearly as easy to set up, i2eye Broadband Videophones from D-Link ( enable two-way videoconferencing with other i2eye users. The i2eye starts in the $200 range - plus about $100 if you need a wireless router - and comes in several flavors. The family-oriented DVC-1100 ($249) works without a computer, attaching to a television. The DVC-2000 ($375), with its own five-inch screen, is more appropriate for individual users. Setup takes around five minutes, but expect up to 20 minutes if you're using a Wi-Fi router that did not come from D-Link.

Some configuration of the wireless network may also be needed.

Ultimately, the lesson is that it is easy - and even cheap - these days to talk over an Internet connection, with or without picture. Devices are affordable, service can be inexpensive or even free, and quality is always improving. The buzz may finally be worth heeding.

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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.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

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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