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Global Village Makes Every Call a Local Call

Internet Phoning a New Alternative

by Jim Bray

Reaching out and touching people far away is about to undergo a transformation.

Thanks to the Internet, businesses (and, down the road, consumers) now have the ability to transmit their phone calls across the globe without (technically) paying long distance charges.

How? Since the Internet considers the world as one big local area, it costs no more to surf a site in Hong Kong than it does to visit one in downtown Calgary. Transmitting your phone calls over the Internet as well, therefore, means you can phone "free" to wherever you like.

This "global area code" has opened up a new opportunity for telecommunications companies, whereby they can offer a "one stop telecommunications solution" providing local and long distance telephone calls - and full Internet access - using the Internet as the transmission medium.

"Internet Telephony" is basically an enhanced type of "Computer Telephony," the fledgling service with which PC users can yak across the miles via a hardware/software solution they build into their computers - except that this new wrinkle doesn't necessarily require the customer's phone to be plugged into a computer.

Routing your voice through cyberspace requires that it be digitized, which Computer Telephony usually accomplishes inside the PC, via (depending upon the system) a special interface card and related software. PC phoning technology also requires "dialer" software and a microphone/speaker (or headset) setup. The "enhanced" Internet service uses the same type of digitization and "un-digitization," but lets you use a relatively conventional "Internet" phone as well as a computer.

To the user, the technology should be virtually seamless and invisible, with access to the "'Netphone network" only requiring the addition of a one-number prefix (like dialing "9" to get an outside line from an office building).

When you pick up the receiver and stab at the keys to phone somebody, your call is routed through the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) as it is normally with "The Phone Company," except that it goes to the "'Netphone company" and is redirected through a "Gateway" into the virtual world. Another gateway tosses the ball back to the PSTN at the other end and the call is received normally.

How much will it cost? According to Network 1, an Alberta company that's hoping to offer the service in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver later this year, the basic plan will start at about $30Cdn per line per month. The tab includes unlimited calling to other customers of the "'Netphone company" and up to 500 minutes per month of calls to people outside the network; calls over that limit will cost between five and 10 cents per minute.

The flat rate includes unlimited Internet access.

While $30 per month may seem a little dear, it's actually quite competitive for long distance calling and Internet access - and when you factor in the local service, it could be quite attractive. In comparison, one of the "conventional" long distance carriers in Canada, advertises a $25Cdn a month deal that includes unlimited Internet access - though it neglects to mention in the ads the "per minute" long distance calling charge over and above the flat rate. And of course there's no local calling service in that price.

The main catch with "'Net Phoning's" flat rate is that the "unlimited" calls may be restricted to other customers of that particular provider, which limits the audience substantially.

On the other hand, companies with widely separated offices could find this flat rate calling powerfully attractive: if all offices use the same provider, they can call each other all they want - and surf to their heart's content - for a virtual song.

And that could be good news for companies concerned with their bottom line.


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January 31, 2006