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Net phone carrier taps voice portal growth

iBasis is teaming up with SpeechWorks to create corporate customer service centers accessible from almost anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call.

Throw another handful of dirt on the grave of long-distance telephone service.

Internet voice company iBasis is teaming up with voice-interface creator SpeechWorks to create corporate customer service centers accessible from almost anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call, the companies said Monday.

The partnership is the latest twist in a quickly developing market that is merging the functions of the telephone and the Internet. Led by companies like Tellme Networks and BeVocal, the companies hope to bring much of the Net's advantages to people who lack immediate computer access.

Many of the services provide access to rudimentary Net information such as sports scores, driving directions or news headlines. America Online, Sprint and Qwest Communications International's wireless services all are working along these lines.

The iBasis service is instead taking a route occupied most prominently by Tellme, hoping to persuade companies to replace labyrinthine voice-mail trees with a voice-activated system based on Internet architecture.

Tellme is already building custom phone centers for outside companies based on its own voice-recognition technology. IBasis and SpeechWorks will be pursuing much the same path, but with the addition of the Net calling company's international voice over the Net.

That means that an individual could call a number in Singapore, and be routed over the iBasis network to a U.S.-based airline's customer service center in Los Angeles, for example--for the price of a local call.

As many international businesses have set up overseas offices or international toll-free calls, this kind of service will likely have a small impact on the biggest companies. It could allow small and medium businesses to expand their overseas presence, however.