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Level 3 maps overseas plans

Level 3 Communications executives say the Net phone service provider is taking major steps to expand into Europe and Asia.

Level 3 Communications, a provider of Net phone services, on Monday said it has taken major steps to expand into Europe and Asia.

Since 1999, Level 3, known as a "service provider's service provider," has offered U.S. cable and long-distance companies a means to transfer voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls between each other or to complete the calls on a traditional telephone network.

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However, the company in December introduced new network hardware that now enables it to offer key Internet phone services to cable and long-distance providers outside the United States, Level 3 Vice President Phil Jackson said. Initially, several European carriers will test the service, he said.

Furthermore, a Level 3 representative said, the company is in the early stages of reaching deals with Asian providers. The company would not identify the carriers involved.

Level 3 said it operates the world's largest network that uses so-called soft switches to carry about 20 billion minutes of Internet phone calls a month. By expanding overseas, the company can more directly take on MCI, AT&T and other large long-distance rivals, according to Jackson.

Representatives of AT&T and MCI had no immediate comment.

The three companies all sell various forms of VoIP, which, after years of development, is starting to take hold. The technology lets carriers sell phone calls for about 30 percent less than what traditional phone companies offer. Carriers are also embracing VoIP as a way to cut traffic costs on international and long-distance calls. Currently, about 11 percent of all voice traffic is classified as VoIP, but less than 1 percent of those calls are initiated on a VoIP phone.

"We believe that the Level 3 international termination capability will provide premier international voice carriers with a reliable and cost-effective alternative to their existing providers," Jack Waters, voice technologies president at Level 3, said in a statement.