Internet-based phone services

Written by Mara Gulens

Phone service over the Internet is being touted in some quarters as the Next Big Thing. That may make you wary if you recall past big things that failed to live up to the hype, such as push technology. Yet the difference is that voice over Internet Protocol — in which voice is sent in packets over the Net instead of more expensively over dedicated phone lines — could within a few years become as pervasive as e-mail and websites.

Now that VoIP is being offered by major players such as Primus and Telus, is it time to make the leap?

VoIP offers many advantages over regular phone service. It’s cheaper; it allows you to have a phone number that, like e-mail, has no fixed address; and integrated Web interfaces let you manage calls on your computer screen.

The pitch from VoIP providers is appealing. Primus’s TalkBroadband service, for instance, promises clients with existing high-speed Internet service a 25% to 75% reduction in their average phone bill. Like other providers, it offers a choice of area codes so you can have a presence in a distant market. Installation is free, the service operates on conventional phones and monthly user fees are less than $40 per phone.

With Telus’s IP-One Enterprise suite of applications, which has a 30-user minimum, your company can use a Web portal to access voice mail in the same way as e-mail, by clicking on a message. For $20 to $70 per month per user, depending on which service level you buy, you can also set up conference calls by picking contact names from a directory and adding them to a “meet me” window.

Of course, you could hold off on VoIP until next year, when expected offerings from Bell and Rogers will presumably top what’s already out there. Still, although teething problems remain, with some users reporting poor call quality and dropped calls, the risks of jumping in now seem modest. You can test VoIP on a portion of your phone network before deciding to go whole hog, and change providers once a better offer comes along. And Primus is encouraging early adoption with a 60-day trial period, so anyone unhappy with the service can cancel without penalty.

© 2004 Mara Gulens

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