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Qwest to boost Net phone service in July

Carrier's OneFlex service will be available to businesses in four U.S. cities.

Qwest Communications International plans to expand next month a Net phone service targeted at businesses and consumers.

OneFlex can be used for making local and long-distance calls, as well as for connecting to the Net, Qwest said Wednesday. Subscribers will need to install voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones to use the service, which also includes conference calling, voice mail and other features that can be controlled through a Web interface. The company already has a Net phone service available in Minnesota.

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For business customers, IBM will support the design and implementation of back-office systems for the new service.

Sonus Networks, a VoIP infrastructure provider, has teamed up with Sylantro Systems, a software maker, to provide service features, Qwest said.

Traditional phone carriers have been adding VoIP to their portfolios to lure business customers away from pure-play Internet phone service providers, whose offerings tend to be inexpensive. VoIP is less expensive because it sends call over the Internet rather than the traditional phone network, which is heavily regulated and taxed. Drawbacks of VoIP include the lack of battery backup to phones, problems with the routing of 911 calls and spotty voice quality.

Companies are working to add new features, like conference calling, that are of interest to business users. It's estimated that up to a fifth of all U.S. businesses either already have Internet telephony systems or plan to add them.

OneFlex is expected to be available to business customers in Boise, Idaho; Denver; Minneapolis; and Phoenix by mid-July and in more than 20 other metropolitan markets by the end of the year.