BT plans to offer voice and video telephony services over internet networks for businesses as well as consumers next year, but insisted this does not signal the demise of its lucrative traditional telephony services.
On 23 November, BT's Ignite division will start trials of enterprise Voice over IP (VoIP) services over the intranet of interactive TV service Open. Hundreds of Open employees will be provided with IP phones and services, which work alongside the existing circuit switched phone network.
VoIP services are planned for the small to medium sized enterprise market in early 2001, when companies without a private network can use the public internet to make VoIP calls, BT said.
The telecoms giant claimed that call quality will be equal to that of a mobile phone call, but added that it could only guarantee such if its own IP network was used.
During the trial, using Cisco equipment, BT will add IP telephony to the intranet and interface it with the existing switchboard so that internal calls can be made between IP and existing phones.
External calls will be routed onto the telco's IP network, then transferred to its public switched telephone network (PSTN). These calls will be charged at PSTN rates.
Features of BT Ignite will include the ability to move IP phones around a network while automatically retaining the same number, click-to-dial calling from PC-based contact lists, and video telephony using web cameras.
Potential customers may need to buy extra network capacity to support the new IP applications and will pay ongoing charges on a per-user basis.
Craig Boundy, vice president of internet services at BT Ignite, said that VoIP services will be sold as value-added services rather than an alternative to traditional voice telephony. "This is not going to spell the end of PSTN turnover for BT in the short term. What we are doing is enriching the internet instead of simply offering cheap calls," he said.
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