AT&T, Vonage make VoIP moves

AT&T Corp. and Vonage Holdings Corp. have announced new voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) products, with AT&T rolling out residential VoIP service to parts of Texas and New Jersey and Vonage planning to offer a Wi-Fi based VoIP phone later this year.

AT&T on Tuesday announced VoIP CallVantage Service in the Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston areas of Texas after announcing service to parts of northern New Jersey on Monday. The company plans to roll out the CallVantage service to 100 U.S. markets by the end of the year and expects 1 million customers by the end of 2005.

Customers must have a broadband connection, such as a cable modem or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) to use the CallVantage Service. AT&T will offer the service at the introductory rate of US$19.99 a month for unlimited local and long-distance calls through May 31, and $39.99 after that.

AT&T trumpeted the features VoIP service can offer, including a "do-not-disturb" feature, personal conferencing with up to nine additional callers and a "locate-me" feature, which enables home phones to find the customer by ringing up to five other phones.

"The thing customers are finding most useful is the ability to have their calls go to a lot of different phones -- office, home, cell, all at once or in sequence," said Cathy Martine, senior vice president of AT&T Internet Telephony, during a speech at the Voice on the Net conference in Santa Clara, California.

Vonage, which claims more than 100,000 residential and small-business VoIP customers, didn't make a formal announcement, but said this week it plans to offer a Wi-Fi phone to its customers by the third quarter or early fourth quarter. Vonage customers now convert their traditional telephones to VoIP phones by using a digital phone adapter, but a Wi-Fi phone will give Vonage customers a second option, said Brooke Schulz, vice president of corporate communications for Vonage.

The Wi-Fi phones will look much like cellular phones, but Vonage anticipates customers will use them primarily at home, Schulz said. Customers could also use the Wi-Fi phones to make phone calls when they're near Wi-Fi hot spots, she said.

Vonage is currently looking at Wi-Fi phones from a couple of vendors, she said.

Asked if Vonage was considering the Wi-Fi phones because of VoIP competition from companies like AT&T, Schulz said the competition had no effect on the plan. "We've been looking at this for seven or eight months, long in advance of AT&T saying they're getting into this," she said.

(Stephen Lawson in Santa Clara contributed to this story.)

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