Satellite firms look to bring VoIP into their orbit

Hughes Electronics and SkyFrames sign deals that combine their satellite-delivered broadband services with Net-based, voice over Internet Protocol offerings. A match made in heaven?

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
A pair of Internet phone providers recently signed deals to help satellite companies add Net-phoning service to their arsenal of offerings.

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Hughes Electronics and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider Net2Phone announced an agreement this week to combine Hughes' satellite-delivered broadband service with Net2Phone's inexpensive dialing plans, which rely on the Internet rather than a phone company's privately owned network. The two companies are first targeting broadband- and phone-starved areas in Africa.

On Tuesday, New Jersey-based VoIP provider Vonage said it has a similar-sounding project in the works with satellite broadband service provider SkyFrames. The companies plan to make their combined services available to troops in Iraq during the upcoming holidays and, according to Vonage Executive Vice President Louis Holder, "could conceivably push this service out" to a wider audience, depending on its success.

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Some believe that satellite companies and VoIP providers are a pairing made in heaven. The coupling enables the satellite providers to keep pace with rival cable companies, which are using VoIP to sell a "triple play" of broadband, television and telephone service. VoIP providers, for their part, get a chance to find new customers, and--in the case of Net2Phone--be the first telephone services in areas where traditional phone lines haven't yet reached, said Net2Phone Global Service President Bryan Wiener.

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"VoIP is really helping to expand telephone services overseas," Wiener said. "VoIP and these kinds of bandwidth providers are really a good match."

But the marriage of these two technologies is not without problems. Because VoIP calls use the Internet instead of traditional phone lines, the packets of digital information can get lost among trillions of other Net communications. The initial service with SkyFrames is "a little better than cellular, but a little worse than what we're used to," Holder said.

Net2Phone's Wiener said, however, that his company and Hughes have developed a way to prioritize voice calls, as they travel over networks. That helps ensure the high level of voice quality traditional phone dialers now expect, he said.

A SkyFrames representative didn't respond to a call seeking comment.