BT plans to offer voice and video telephony services over internet networks for businesses and consumers next year, but insists this doesn't signal the demise of its lucrative traditional telephony services.
On 23 November BT's Ignite division will start trialling an enterprise voice over IP (VoIP) service over the intranet of interactive TV service Open. It will provide hundreds of Open employees with IP phones and services, which work alongside the existing circuit switched phone network.
BT said other potential triallists are being lined up and the service would be commercially available six months after the Open trial begins.
VoIP services are also planned for the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) market in early 2001, where companies without a private network can use the public internet to make VoIP calls. For consumers, the current Surftalk PC-to-PC dial service will be extended and made more widely available in the next two months.
BT said the call quality will be equal to that of a mobile phone call, but said that it could only guarantee call quality if its own IP network was used.
During the Open trial, using Cisco equipment, BT Ignite will add IP telephony to the intranet and interface it with the existing switchboard, so internal calls can be made between IP phones and existing phones. External calls are routed onto BT's IP network, then transferred to BT's public switched telephone network. These calls will be charged at PSTN rates.
Features 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, told vnunet.com 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 revenue for BT in the short term. We're enriching the internet rather than offering cheap calls," he said.
Voice is where BT makes the bulk of its revenue and VoIP provides a way to bypass many traditional call charges, so BT is unlikely to pitch VoIP as an alternative.
For consumers, BT will launch a service over the next couple of months that will let people answer incoming phone calls, even when they are online. A PC-to-phone service will be launched during the second quarter of 2001.
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