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Vonage to offer portable Wi-Fi phones

The broadband phone service provider will make available portable Wi-Fi phones later this year to help defend itself against AT&T's expansion into its market.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Broadband phone service provider Vonage will make available portable Wi-Fi phones later this year to help defend itself against AT&T's expansion into its market, a Vonage executive said Monday.

With the phone, Vonage subscribers can make and receive phone calls within range of Wi-Fi wireless access points normally found in homes, airports, cafes, fast food restaurants and other high-trafficked areas, Executive Vice President Michael Trembolet said. The phone could also work inside any home outfitted with Wi-Fi networks, he said.

Vonage also will begin selling its $35-a-month unlimited local and long-distance services to broadband-enabled homes in the United Kingdom, Mexico City, Switzerland and some Pacific Rim territories later this year, he said.

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Vonage's moves are in response to the formal launch of AT&T's CallVantage phone service on Monday here at Spring 2004 VON Conference & Expo. AT&T, now selling CallVantage in Texas and New Jersey, represents a major threat to Vonage's market leading share of broadband phone subscriptions using voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology.

"We have to be aware of our competition," Trembolet said. He adds that the company hasn't yet chosen which manufacture Vonage will buy the Wi-Fi phones from.

At the VON conference, AT&T global networking technology services President Hossein Eslambolchi said the company would "continue to be industry leader in VoIP. We will always be better than those of our competitors."

Vonage, AT&T and Qwest Communications International are just three of more than a dozen providers of VoIP--technology for making phone calls that uses the most popular method of sending data from one computer to another.

For now, Internet telephony services typically promise consumers a smaller phone bill, largely because VoIP providers operate free of any regulations. Connecting phone calls over the Internet also opens the door to advanced communications services that tie voice together with e-mail, instant messaging and videoconferencing--something that Microsoft and others are already working to achieve.