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Akamai sells telcos on Web conferencing

Rounding out a one-two punch of a week, the Net infrastructure firm will announce tomorrow that it will offer online conference call services to several of the biggest phone companies in the United States.

Rounding out a one-two punch of a week, Akamai Technologies will announce tomorrow that it will offer online conference call services to several of the biggest phone companies in the United States.

The move marks yet another new slice of business for the young Net infrastructure firm, this time using its speedy Web network to offer outsourced conference calls and videoconferencing online.

Once again, it's not alone in the space. A handful of other start-ups such as Evoke Communications and WebEx offer similar online conferencing and collaboration products and have managed to attract tens of million of dollars in venture funding to their services.

But Akamai has managed to attract brand name customers directly out of the box. AT&T, MCI WorldCom, Global Crossing and ACT Teleconferencing all will be the initial customers, the company said.

The announcement follows closely on the heels of another new service, in which Akamai will act as a kind of traffic cop for a site's entire Web traffic, directing users to the nearest or fastest Web-hosting center. Previously it had helped speed only individual pieces of Web sites, such as individual graphics or streaming media presentations.

The newest service is the closest Akamai has come to playing an old-world telecommunications role.

"We're taking traditional conference calling and moving it online," said Akamai senior vice president Ed Huguez. Like other online firms, the service will also offer the ability for conference moderators to control participants' Web browsers, showing them online presentations, as well as archiving and other multimedia functions.

The technology underlying the conference calling feature is based on the streaming media system acquired from Intervu in February, combined with the widely distributed network of Akamai servers, Huguez said. The service may also take advantage of speedy downloads from satellites offered by Loral Cyberstar and Cidera, he said.

After a period of skepticism that the company could live up to once-stellar valuations, Wall Street has applauded the developments of the past few weeks.

By the close of trading today, the company's stock had risen to more than $95, after falling to a low of near $60 late last month. However, that's still far below it's 52-week high of more than $345.