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Internet phones get boost

Internet phoning gets another boost next Wednesday when PhoNet Communications will announce a plan to bundle Net phone calls with its traditional business calling package.

Internet phoning gets another boost next Wednesday when PhoNet Communications will announce a plan to bundle Net phone calls with its traditional business calling package.

The company concedes that Net phoning still can be as crackly as calling over a Ham radio. But its action shows how the technology is catching on. As CNET reported last week, America Online, the nation's number-one online service, plans to roll out Net phone calling for its members by year's end.

The telecos also are considering jumping on the Net phone bandwagon. Net phone calls are less expensive than traditional calls, so they offer a big advantage to businesses if the quality of reception can be improved.

Just as a user dials "9" for an outside line, they'll dial "8" for an Internet connection. PhoNet will demonstrate the service at next week's Networld+Interop trade show in Atlanta. PhoNet's specialty is offering a PBX phone system over a standard local area network(LAN).

"With the new Internet connection, PhoNet is further widening the generation gap in telephony solutions," said Yaron Baratz, the company's chief executive officer.

The link requires existing PC and LANs provided by PhoNet, along with a card in each desktop PC that serves as an interface between the phone and the computer. It also requires a telephony server unit.

With the technology, consumers only get charged for the cost of connecting to a local server, rather than making a long-distance call over regular phone lines.

The company sees its EtherPhone product as a low-cost solution for companies upgrading to a PBX system for the first time. The product is set to ship in the fourth quarter of 1996. Pricing hasn't been finalized.

PhoNet, which is privately held, was launched in Herzlia, Israel last year by Baratz and two other Israeli engineers. Funding comes from Israel Seed Fund, a Jerusalem venture capital firm.

The company is an example of the booming high-tech industry in Israel, which has the second highest number of high-tech startups worldwide after the United States, analysts say.