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Lucent shines light on Internet phones

Lucent Technologies is the latest to join the big Internet phone players with a product that lets voice and fax calls reach regular phones over the Internet.

Lucent Technologies (LU) today became the latest, and one of the biggest, players in the Internet phone market with a product that lets voice and fax communications reach regular phones over the Internet.

This was the most significant announcement of several made today by the new AT&T spin-off, one of the few companies that's able to boast about turning a profit so far on the Net.

Lucent announced that it is developing an Internet telephony server based on technology introduced earlier this year in its Multimedia Communications Exchange server. The new product will let customers use the Internet or a company intranet to make calls from one regular phone to another. Users will also be able to send faxes over the Internet using their current fax machines.

Initially, most of its customers will be international companies looking to save on long distance connection charges, according to Lucent. The Internet telephony server will support Unix workstations and will use standard connections that allow multisite, multivendor networks on any business telephone system.

Lucent says the new server is expected to be available in the first quarter of 1997. The company has not yet announced pricing.

"The Internet will not achieve its full potential unless people use it every day. Our goal to integrate the Internet and people's existing voice and data and video networks so that the information superhighway we've been hearing about materializes," said Carl Pavarini, vice president of multimedia market offers for Lucent.

The Baby Bells have been resistant to Internet telephony because it presents an alternative to their established business, but Pavarini says Lucent is now working with some of these operators. "This opens up as many possibilities for them as it creates new challenges for their existing business," Pavarini says.

As part of the strategy, unveiled at the Networld+Interop trade show, Lucent rolled out several new products and services for consumers and businesses.

For example, the company will offer a service that allows customers to shop online and speak to a customer service agent simultaneously on a single phone line.

The company also released software that allows consumers to send and receive email, voice mail, and faxes over the Internet but not in real time. That product is becoming commonplace throughout the industry.