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VeriSign nears new Net phone deals

Ten Internet phone providers are set to use its behemoth signaling network. Does the move take away business from the Bells?

VeriSign is nearing deals with about 10 Net phone service providers, according to a key executive of the network security company.

The service providers, seven in the United States and three in Europe, are "very close" to using VeriSign's behemoth signaling network to ensure that subscribers' calls reach those using traditional home, office or cell phones, VeriSign Vice President Tom Kershaw said Monday.

There are only a handful of network operators, including Level 3 Communications, AT&T and others, with the infrastructure to offer such a service. Seeing an opportunity for its own network, VeriSign began wooing Internet phone operators four months ago.

"Now (Net phone service providers) can use and abuse us," a VeriSign spokeswoman adds.

VeriSign's most recent move is another sign of the hoopla surrounding voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a decade-old method for placing free calls over the Internet. Interest in VoIP was seeded by the likes of Free World Dialup, which distributes software for making free calls between broadband-connected PCs.

Vonage, 8x8 and other commercial VoIP providers debuted two years ago with unlimited VoIP calls to all kinds of phones in the United States, at monthly rates now between $20 and $25. Analysts project that by 2005, a million homes will have switched from traditional to VoIP phones.