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Big Telecom Companies Now Boosting Internet Phone Service


Vonage In Print News

Big Telecom Companies Now Boosting Internet Phone Service

December 13, 2003

By Roy Bragg

Five years ago, using a computer to make a phone call was fraught with anxiety.

Armed with sound-equipped PCs, users could have conversations converted to digital packets and sent across the same Internet networks that let them surf Web pages, send and receive e-mail and download music files. They avoided the traditional phone networks completely.

But call quality was poor. Service was limited to other users with compatible equipment. And, despite the innovation, the whole concept was viewed as just another Internet fad among geeks.

Plus, it's hard to cradle a PC on your shoulder while you speak.

The real backbreaker, however, came from Big Business. Major telephone service providers viewed it as an unfair insurgency because it let unregulated Internet carriers pick away at the subscriber base of heavily regulated Baby Bells and long-distance companies.

Given the money and power emanating from those corners, their objections were viewed as a death warrant for the nascent technology.

But with the national broadband rollout near completion and American companies searching for new technologies to cut costs and be more productive, this could be the golden age of so-called "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VoIP) technology.

The quality is better. The systems can link to the traditional phone networks. And more importantly, phone companies have embraced Voip as the future of business communication.

The FCC has declined to step in and regulate the systems. At hearings on Voip Monday, Chairman Michael Powell said the agency needed to address it but didn't want to do so in a ham-fisted fashion.

"The time has come to confront this issue more directly rather than having the regulatory framework for the Internet develop in a piecemeal fashion or by dangerous accident," Powell said.

Already, most of the major phone players have unveiled Voip services. Locally based SBC Corp. has rolled out a package of business services that stretches from simple desktop Internet phones to allowing voice, data and multimedia to be exchanged on a single line simultaneously.

"From 1997, most (phone) companies have embraced it in one way or another," Jeff Pulver, a Voip consultant, said. "Few companies are opposed to it anymore. They've decided to take advantage of the platform."

"As we look where telecommunication is going, we're seeing more and more of a move from traditional voice systems to the Voip systems," Marianne Gedeon, SBC's director of voice and data packaging, said. "Customers are the ones really driving this. It's a huge opportunity, which is why SBC and many other companies are getting into this."

Most Voip companies use the national Internet backbone, a connection of networks, to move data around. SBC's system, Gedeon said, uses the company's own proprietary IP backbone, which means there's more security for important business conversations.

SBC provides the service. Customers provide the software and the bandwidth to connect to SBC.

The advantages of a Voip system, Gedeon said, begin with mobility. With a traditional system, there's a paper trail or work orders that must be created and executed for an employee to change offices or even desks in the same office.

But with a Voip system, the employee unplugs a phone and PC at one desk, and plugs back in at the new location. The employee is immediately back on the network. The phone number and all data directed to the employee automatically knows where to go.

Using Web-based conferencing software, employees can program the system route and manipulate the flow of phone calls.

Calls can follow the employee from cell phone to car phone to the office to the customer's office to home. Employees can use the Web site to make calls from, say, a cell phone at their side rather than their desk phone.

Upstarts such as Vonage and Net2Phone have pioneered the business, but Pulver thinks that telecoms ultimately will rule the roost.

"They're in business to stay in business forever, as opposed to being a startup that relies on venture capital to stay viable," he said. "And ultimately, customers don't care about VoIP. When they open the refrigerator, they want to see what to eat. Refrigerator repairmen care how the refrigerator works. Consumers don't.

"We have to get over the difference between (regular phone service) and Voip services," he said. "Consumers don't care."

This story also appeared in:
  • San Antonio Express, 12/22/03



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    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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