Net2Phone Talks VoWLAN

By Eric Griffith

April 22, 2004

A pioneer in offering voice over IP services to telcos, the company is extending that strategy to offering voice over hotspots services.

Companies like Vonage, BroadVoice and Viper Networks are making a lot of noise about selling Wi-Fi-based voice services to customers. Voice over IP (VoIP) pioneer Net2Phone is taking its new Wi-Fi phone service directly to the carriers.

"We are not a direct-to-consumer company," says Sarah Hofstetter, Net2Phone's senior vice president of corporate communications. "We enable providers with telephony."

Newark, N.J.-based Net2Phone's plan is for ISPs to offer the wireless VoIP as a bundle to existing data plans. The program is an extension of its recently launched VoiceLine broadband telephony service. One bill for one platform, but with multiple methods of getting data and voice.

Users of the Net2Phone wireless VoIP service could use their Wi-Fi phones at any hotspot, not just those owned by the carrier.

The company is not locked into use of any particular Wi-Fi phone, a move Hofstetter says would be premature with the state of the market as it is. She says prices are coming down on those that exist, and she expects them to go mainstream in the near future. Softphones -- telephony software running on PDAs and PCs -- will also be supported (though the days of making phone calls on PCs, she says, are pretty much over with).

Wi-Fi phones that can use the Net2Phone network will have to support Session Initiated Protocol (SIP), which is used to initiate call setup, routing, authentication and other feature messages to endpoints within an IP domain. Net2Phone's VoiceLine service, which lets users plug a standard phone into an adapter that runs on a broadband connection, also uses SIP.

Phones they've tested with the service include Pulver's WiSIP Phone, DiamondWare's softphone, and "all the usual suspects" according to Hofstetter.

The first customer of the service will be IDT , a majority shareholder in Net2Phone. IDT is going to launch what it calls "the first commercial Wi-Fi phone service in the US" -- basically by launching hotspots in a 2 square mile part of the Ironbound area of Newark, with a dozen more to be added by the end of the year. USA Today is reporting that the service will cost $2 a month plus 5 cents per minute on calls. Incoming calls would be free.

Earlier this year, Net2Phone also launched a VoIP via satellite service with Hughes Network Systems. The company expects to announce other ISP partners using the Wi-Fi phone service soon.

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