The big guns of networking are lining up behind voice-over-IP technologies, with AT&T, 3Com and Cisco all making announcements this week.
AT&T will trial a voice-over-IP service targeted at the consumer market in the second quarter this year. This will allow long distance calls to be made for the cost of a local connection.
The Worldnet Voice service is due to be trialed in seven to 10 major US cities. Callers will use the Internet to bypass the conventional telephone network and will only pay the cost of connection to the Net - the price of a local call.
Users will set up a prepaid AT&T account using a credit card, which will operate in a similar way to the BT chargecard system in the UK.
Customers will dial an AT&T Worldnet local access number from a conventional phone and enter an access number, personal ID number and a destination telephone number. The call will then be routed via the Internet to the node nearest to its destination, using the conventional telephone network to make the final connection.
A spokesman for AT&T said: ?We have always said that the Internet telephony will happen and we intend to be a major player in the market.?
According to AT&T, there are no plans as yet to launch the service in the UK as the UK company is focused on corporate clients rather than the consumer mass market.
Major data networking vendors - 3Com and Cisco - have also announced voice-over-IP technologies this week.
3Com is adding the capability to its Total Control remote access platform. According to the company, service providers and large enterprises that use the Total Control hub will be able to download voice software to the hub?s digital signal processor.
At the Comnet networking show in Washington DC this week, Cisco is set to announce its strategy for the intergration of voice, video and data over the Internet.
Such technologies - like most voice-over-IP services - are targeted primarily at large companies, where they are used to allow telephone conversations to take place over a corporate Wan.
Chris Lewis, an analyst for Yankee Group, believes that large corporations will reap the initial benefits of voice-over-IP for inhouse international communications but it will be a while yet before traditional telephone networks are threatened.
?It is not going to happen quickly. There are too many vested interests but we should see fully integrated networks connected to every home by around 2010 or 2020,? he said.
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