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DSL sees a "killer app" in IP

Industry experts say providing voice services via Internet Protocol, or IP, can add value to high-speed Internet access technology.

BEVERLY HILLS, California--Voice-over IP could be the "killer app" for digital subscriber lines.

Providing voice services via Internet Protocol, or IP, the data transmissions standard behind the Net, can add value to high-speed Internet access technology, experts told attendees today at a conference sponsored by the ADSL Forum, a non-profit consortium of 300 companies in the industry.

Packet-based voice service could help differentiate digital subscriber line (DSL) providers from the competing cable modem industry, especially for small businesses and corporate telecommuters, DSL industry executives said.

"Voice over IP is going to be the next major product that we roll out," said Scott Campbell, vice president of sales for Flashcom. "I think DSL combined with voice over IP is a nice mix. It's a good extension of what we're trying to do with our client base."

Southern California-based Flashcom, a DSL provider, said it has been approached by several companies willing to test its voice-over-IP equipment.

"We're definitely looking forward to it. We hope to have something ready for the marketplace by January," Campbell said.

DSL is a technology that allows data transfer rates of up to 1.5 mbps over standard copper phone lines at a comparable price to an ISDN connection. But until recently, the technology has been plagued by a lack of standards and interoperability constraints, much like cable modems. And, because of its relatively high cost, DSL technology has been targeted at businesses and the small office-home office markets.

Joseph Peck, DSL product manager for Concentric Networks, said the company is carefully considering a plan to offer voice-over-IP service to its DSL customers. "We're definitely looking at it too," he said.

But Peck said the real key to making voice-over-IP useful--especially for employees who work from home--is adding equipment that extends the functions and voice mail capabilities of the PBX phone systems found in many corporate offices to telecommuters over their DSL connections.

"That's the application that makes telecommuting really work," he said. "You don't want to have to dial in to the office to check your voice mail."

Peck expects some DSL providers to consider employing technology that could reroute calls to an employee's PBX-based office phone as an IP packet over DSL to their handset at home.

DSL technology has been criticized for being slow to market. But experts said providing additional services over high-speed DSL connections, such as voice-over IP, will help what has so far been a niche offering.

And established computer industry leaders are beginning to take notice. Compaq Computer yesterday announced a series of initiatives to make DSL- and cable modem-ready PCs. Cisco is considering the technology as an option for its employees who telecommute.

Yinpo Wong, corporate network services manager for Cisco Systems, said the company will begin offering DSL service to some of its 5,000 employees that telework "over the next couple months," but would like to add voice-over IP as well.

"Voice-over-IP is what we're looking to do probably within the next six months or so," he said.