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Tech Industry

Start-up cuts Net phone costs

Networks Telephony debuts a service that it says will allow PC-based international phone calls at significant savings.

    Banking on the future of the Internet-based telephony market, start-up Networks Telephony debuted a product today that it says will allow consumers and businesses to make PC-based international phone calls at significant savings.

    Slated to be available to the general public October 20, NTC Voice Services allows users to place long distance calls over the Internet to more than 220 countries. Users can access NTC's global network using NTC Voice through NTC-enabled Internet service providers or use NTC Netvoice with any ISP. NTC comprises three product lines: NTC Voice Services, NTC VoiceFusion Portfolio, and NTC Mobile Services Portfolio, all introduced today.

    To use NTC Voice Services, users must have Windows 95, a full-duplex sound card, NTC software, an account with an ISP, and a microphone and speakers or a common handset.

    ISPs that can carry NTC Voice Services allow PC users to place inexpensive calls to phones anywhere the world through a global Web-enabled telephone network.

    A PIN-protected personal statement Web page allows users to immediately access the cost of their most recent call.

    When using an ISP that's not an NTC carrier, Netvoice works by allowing a Web user to establish a connection from his or her ISP. The call will then be routed automatically to the nearest NTC-enabled Internet service provider over the NTC network. The NTC-enabled ISP will get a commission for transiting the call.

    Customers can download the NTC software at no charge from the company's Web site and pay based on service rates that vary from city to city. Service rates are available on the Web site, broken down by country and city.

    Networks Telephony is venturing into what's becoming a hotly contested market. Earlier this year, Net telephone company VocalTec Communications released a new version of its software in an effort to create a worldwide network that lets users make cheap long distance phone calls through their PCs.

    As companies fast and furiously launch products, the government is busy trying to forge a plan for handling Net telephony. Last month, the White House's point man on telecommunications said the federal government, at least for the time being, should not regulate telephone calls over the Net.

    Such a stance would be highly favorable to the development of better-quality Internet phone service. While it is possible to make local and long distance calls via the Internet right now, the quality is poor and special software is required on both ends of each call.

    Research firm Killen & Associates recently estimated that revenue from Internet telephony will reach $63 billion by 2002. Killen currently pegs revenues at $741 million.