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Net phones do a new number

IDT is close to being the first company to let Internet phone users dial real phones, but its competitors are close behind.

Long distance reseller IDT appears to be the first one out of the gate with a product that lets Internet telephony systems call regular phones, though its competitors will soon be nipping at its heels.

IDT has beaten rivals VocalTec and NetSpeak to the punch by making its Net2Phone service available immediately.

Telephony software lets two users talk over the Internet for only the cost of connecting to a local server, instead of calling over regular phone lines and paying long distance charges. Until recently, however, such systems worked only if the same kind of software was being used on the other end of the call, and even then only if the receiving computer is already powered up and online. Now, vendors are trying to take the next step by letting Net telephones call regular phones.

Net2Phone requires only that the caller have a computer, an Internet connection, and Net2Phone client software, which is free to download. The user then dials a number directly, and a telephone switch maintained by Net2Phone converts the digital call to an analog call.

The company will charge the user for long distance fees incurred between its switch and the phone number called but declares that users will still pay substantially less than regular, domestic long distance charges. For overseas callers dialing a U.S. number the company will charge 10 cents a minute on off-peak hours and 15 cents per minute during peak times.

Starting in September, VocalTec and NetSpeak will both offer gateway servers for transforming incoming digital signals into outgoing analog signals. But those gateways will be marketed primarily to companies for individual departments or locations, not to individuals.

NetSpeak plans to set up public gateways so that residential users can dial in and get the purported benefits of making calls over the Net. Netspeak officials haven't set a price yet for their server. VocalTec's gateway server will cost $4,000.

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