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Open Port opens the communications gates

The small technology firm creates new software that makes it easier for telecommunications companies to offer faxing, voice messaging, and other services over the Net.

A small technology firm says it has created new software that makes it easier for telecommunications companies to offer faxing, voice messaging, and other services over the Internet.

Open Port Technology executives say the company's new technology will help link different message types--such as voice mail, email and faxes--through Internet Protocol, or IP, the standard used to route information over the Net.

The Chicago-based company, which claims a minority investment from Microsoft, likens its IP technology to the software giant's Windows operating system.

"Windows handles printer drivers and video drivers?so the platform enables developers to write applications without worrying about the hardware underneath," said Robert Rainone, Open Port's vice president of marketing. "We do the same thing, but instead of applications, it's IP services."

The company's platform, called IP LaunchPad, will handle network management, billing, quality of service, and other needs, so telecommunications companies can focus on creating services that can run on top of Open Port's technology, he said.

Analyst Brian Strachman, of Cahners InStat, said Open Port has a good chance to become the de facto standard, as long as telecommunications companies sign up to use IP LaunchPad.

"When it comes to standards, being first to market is important," he said. "The question is: Do messaging vendors and telecommunications carriers want this to happen and promote it?"

Open Port executives say several phone companies and carriers have lab-tested IP LaunchPad, and will run trials in the next six weeks. Some companies plan to implement the technology by the second quarter of this year, executives added.

The company--which got its start by offering fax-over-IP through UUNet--said its technology will allow people using IP for voice calls to send voice mail directly to other people's voice mail boxes.

Other services include unified messaging, the ability to check voice mail, email, pages, and faxes through a single device; "certified" email, which can verify that emails you send were received by the intended recipient, Rainone said.

Strachman said the services will fill a void in the market.

"If I'm on US West, I can't forward my voice mail to a Sprint PCS [cellular] phone and I really should be able to," he said.