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VoIP unplugged, as Wi-Fi meets Net phoning

Announcements by Vonage, Net2Phone, Boingo underscore collision course of Internet telephony and wireless broadband.

Two major VoIP providers took steps Monday to further unwire Net-based phoning, traditionally a service tethered by wires.

Vonage, the world's largest commercial provider of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services, and commercial hot-spot provider Boingo Wireless said they intend to co-market each other's services later this year. Meanwhile, Boingo said it is working with handset makers to integrate its software into Wi-Fi-ready phones.

The announcements from Vonage and Boingo, and another Monday from Net2Phone, underscore the collision course of Net-based phoning and Wi-Fi, the popular wireless standards used to distribute broadband inside thousands of homes, retail outlets, restaurants and cafes, and in public areas.

Typically, VoIP subscribers use a wired phone line, whether a single home phone or any number of phones in an office setting. But many service providers see an opportunity to create wireless versions of their services using Wi-Fi, which, according to Pyramid Research, will have about 700 million users worldwide by 2008. Introducing the appropriate VoIP services and technology could turn hot spots into giant phone booths.

"By removing the tether from wireline services, we have extended the availability of VoIP to customers who have access to wireless broadband," said Stephen Greenberg, chief executive officer of Net2Phone. The company on Monday began selling the VoiceLine XJ100 Wi-Fi handset.

Net2Phone provides cable companies with VoIP services to resell to their subscribers.

Vonage teamed up with gear makers Linksys and Netgear in August to make VoIP service available through Wi-Fi equipment. Net2Phone made a similar move to unwire in April.