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Reach Out And Touch Voip

January 12, 2004

By David Shabelman

The Internet telephony industry received a major boost Jan. 9 with Texas Instruments Inc.'s announcement that it is partnering with Vonage Corp. Experts also said it casts a light on a burgeoning technology sector that is ripe for consolidation.

Dallas-based TI will provide Vonage with chips and software to offer voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VoIP, services, which enables online telecommunications.

The announcement came one day after two other major telecom industry providers also agreed to collaborate on Internet telephony. Brampton Ontario-based Nortel Networks Corp. will provide Voip equipment to Verizon Communications Inc. as the New York telecom speeds its development of packet-switching technology.

Voip technology uses software or hardware to transmit voice data in digital packets over the Internet or corporate networks, bypassing traditional, copper-based telephone networks.

"VoIP is going to take the industry by storm," said Joe Noel, research analyst with Pacific Growth Equities LLC.

With Verizon accelerating its Voip capabilities, Noel expects other telecoms to follow into Internet telephony. "When one telco does something new, the others fall right into place and do the same thing."

Muayyad Al-Chalabi, managing director with telecom advisory service RHK Inc. in South San Francisco, Calif., estimated that Voip will have between 2 million and 2.5 million subscribers by 2007 and generate annual revenues of $1 billion, still a small piece of the $330 billion telecommunications industry.

As competition in the sector heats up, Al-Chalabi said he expects telecommunications providers that are late in developing Voip technology to make acquisitions. For instance, Level 3 Communications Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., last year bought Voip startup Telverse Communications for $30 million in stock.

Although Noel characterized Edison N.J.-based Vonage as a "fantastic buyout candidate," the 3-year-old company is unlikely to sell out in the short-term. "They're on the cusp of very rapid growth right now," he said.

Matt Deatrick, vice president of retail sales with Vonage, said the company expects competition to be "fast and furious." For now, though, the plan is to remain independent.

"Everyone has come out and said they have intentions of expanding voice over on their networks, but I haven't seen anything on the market yet," he said.

Other companies that provide similar services to Vonage include 8X8 Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. and Teleglobe Inc. of Montreal.

Another buyout candidate could be publicly traded Net2Phone Inc., said Eric Buck, research analyst with Janco Partners Inc. The Newark, N.J., company works with cable companies to build out Voip networks.

Liberty Media Corp., which owns a majority of the company, "might want to pull the whole thing under the Liberty umbrella," he said. Other possible buyers could include Internet players such as InterActiveCorp. of New York or Yahoo! Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Already, Internet telephony has experienced an M&A uptick. In late October, Avaya Inc. of Ridge, N.J., agreed to buy NorthWestern Corp. unit Expanets, which offers voice and other IP services, for $152 million. Teleglobe, the private telecom controlled by Cerberus Capital Management LP, merged with Voip wholesaler ITXC Corp. in November to create a company worth about $530 million. Texas Instruments' VoIP's technology stems from the company's 1999 acquisition of Telogy Networks Inc.

Voip also has attracted significant interest from venture firms.

In December, Trinity Ventures of Menlo Park, Calif., participated in an $8.85 million funding round for Clarus Systems Inc., which makes software that manages and measures the quality of telephone traffic over the Internet. It also participated in a $12.5 million round of funding in VocalData Inc., a Richardson, Texas-based developer of hosted IP telephony services in July.

Fred Wang, a general partner at Trinity Ventures, said he expects "significant consolidation" among Voip infrastructure companies within the next year.

Big telecom equipment companies "are just waiting to see where the carriers are leaning in terms of platforms" before buying smaller infrastructure players, he said.

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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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