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Networking

VoIP providers band together

Net telephony companies are meeting up to promote the technology and spur adoption.

A handful of voice over Internet providers will announce on Thursday that they are banding together to promote the use of Internet telephony.

The group, called the Internet Voice Campaign, is a part of the VON Coalition, a group that aims to increase adoption and use of voice over IP. EarthLink, Google, Pulver.com, Sonus Networks and Skype, which was recently bought by eBay, are all founding members of the group.

VoIP allows voice traffic to be transmitted over the Internet as packets just like other IP-based applications like e-mail or Web surfing. Because it uses the same infrastructure as other types of data, it's a relatively cheap and cost-effective application for carriers to offer. Because it is based on the Internet Protocol, service providers do not need to own the underlying infrastructure to deliver the service, making it easy for just about anyone to get into the market.

About 3 million people use voice over IP today, according to market research group IDC. But that number is expected to increase to 27 million by the end of 2009. Still, members of the new Internet Voice Campaign believe adoption of the technology could be sped up if people were more aware of the benefits.

According to a May 2005 telecommunications report by Harris Interactive, attitudes and perceptions about the reliability and ease of use of VoIP services prevent many people from adopting the technology. Consumers still have questions and concerns about 911 support issues, privacy and security, power failures and call quality, the report says.

The Internet Voice Campaign hopes that by educating consumers, it can help dispel some of the misconceptions and concerns.

"Voice over IP has the potential to revolutionize the way we all communicate, providing high-quality, low-cost alternatives to traditional phone lines," Steve Howe, vice president of voice at EarthLink, said in a statement. "With this collaboration, we are declaring: The time for Internet voice is now, and consumers need to know the benefits and innovative services that voice over IP can provide."

While companies like Vonage and Skype have been offering VoIP services for more than a year, the past six months have seen an explosion of new offerings from other companies. Internet and portal providers such as EarthLink, America Online, and Yahoo have gotten into the VoIP market. Nearly all the large cable operators, such as Cablevision, Cox Communications and Time Warner, have also begun offering voice over IP phone service in their effort to compete against local phone companies. Soon, Microsoft will be offering Net-based calling from its new Windows Live messenger client.

The latest entrant to the VoIP services party is dial-up Internet access provider NetZero. The company will announce on Thursday that it now offers a downloadable software client similar to one offered by Skype that will allow users to talk over the Internet using any PC.

But unlike Skype, AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo, which only work over broadband, NetZero's service will work over a broadband line as well as a dial-up connection. The company has developed special technology that reduces the amount of bandwidth needed to make a VoIP call.