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LAS VEGAS -There used to be a time when two tin cans affixed with a length of string passed for a high-tech communication device. But as life moves from tree house to home to home office, the tin cans get traded in for Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, phones that can send and receive e-mail, and multi-user cordless-phone systems.
All of these advanced-phone technologies were on display at CES, where:
Panasonic showed a VoIP phone through a partnership with VoIP service provider Net2Phone. Panasonic also unveiled a new multi-user 2.4GHz Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum cordless phone.
Net2Phone showed its own YAP- branded headsets and phone jacks for VoIP telephony.
Samsung unveiled its Anyweb screenphone.
Fanstel showed an ADSI Screenphone that can send and receive e-mail.
Uniden America previewed its first multi-user cordless phone system, said to be the industry's most affordable at a suggested $149 for two handsets.
2Wire demonstrated its Phone Port networking adapter for use in its Integrated Communications System.
Arkon showed its Parafone Springboard module for Handspring's Visor. The module transforms the PDA into a 900MHz cordless phone.
In VoIP products, suppliers are moving the technology out of the domain of PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone calling as the technology improves and broadband Internet access begins to infiltrate homes.
Spurred by these trends, demand for VoIP is growing and is poised to grow even more. Market research company International Data Corp., for example, expects the category to account for up to 47 percent of long-distance traffic in 2005.
One of the early players in the VoIP market, Net2Phone, has begun shipping its YAP (Your Alternative Phone) products to retail stores. YAP products let users connect any regular phone into Net2Phone's Internet calling network through a standard phone line or an Internet-enabled PC.
The YAP Phone is a USB handset that plugs into computers for easier PC-based calling. It is currently shipping with a suggested retail of $50. The $159.99-suggested YAP Jack plugs into a phone jack to let ordinary landline phones dial over the Internet.
The Jack requires an initial account sign-up via a configuration menu. Users must have an ISP account because the jack dials an ISP's local access number before routing users over the Internet.
The Jack comes with a $10 Net2Phone calling card. Once spent, users can buy more time cards at YAP retailers or replenish their account online.
For its part, Panasonic showed its 1800 series 900MHz DSS cordless phones with one-touch access to the Net2Phone VoIP service. It's available.
Users who want to make a call over the Internet must press a button to connect to the Net2Phone service. Consumers receive 60 minutes of free long-distance calls via Net2Phone's VoIP interface. If they wish to continue using the Net2Phone service, they gain another 120 minutes of domestic long distance when they sign up with Net2Phone for a service agreement.
An initial fee of $25 is required, along with a variable monthly fee. Users need not subscribe to an ISP to benefit from the service.
Also at the show, Panasonic introduced the $199.95-suggested KX-TG1000N and $249.95 KX-TG1050N 2.4GHz Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum multi-user cordless phones. They ship in July.
Both Panasonic models feature full-duplex speakerphone capability on both the base unit and each of the handsets. The phones can also support up to four additional handsets at a suggested $119.95 each. The 1050N also comes with 15-minute digital answerer.
Uniden's multiuser system, expected to ship in August, is a 2.4GHz analog system that ships with two handsets at a suggested $149. One handset slips into the system's base station/charging cradle; the other handset fits into a charging cradle. It supports handset-to-handset calling.
The base station doesn't support additional handsets. Each handset features caller ID/call waiting, a four-line LCD display, and 50 name caller ID memory. Multiple melody ring tones allow users to customize rings to identify different callers. The handsets have an eight-hour talktime.
At its booth, Samsung unveiled its VoIP entry, the Anyweb screenphone, which also lets users browse the web. It's due in the second quarter at a suggested $399.
The Samsung phone also comes with a Smartcard reader, an 8.2-inch VGA LCD screen with adjustable display angle, a pullout keyboard, and DRAM memory expandable from 32MB to 64MB. Users must be signed up with a local ISP to take advantage of the device's VoIP and Web browsing abilities.
2Wire displayed the Integrated Communications System (ICS), a broadband solution for delivering voice and data services throughout a home. The company's HomePortal 2000 residential gateway integrates an ADSL modem with HomePNA phone-line networking technology.
The system also features 2Wire Phone Ports, HomePNA adapters that can be used to connect regular analog phones into a HomePNA network to deliver PBX-like capabilities. Each adapter plugs into an AC wall outlet for power and includes an AC give-back jack into which a user plugs a cordless phone's power adapter.
The adapter also features two RJ11 connectors, one to connect to a phone and the other to connect to a phone jack in the wall.
The combined use of the HomePortal 2000 and Phone Port adapters also delivers unified messaging, enabling users to review voice messages, e-mail and faxes from a PC or phone. Other features include time-of-day ringing so calls can be turned off at specific times, distinctive ringing, videoconferencing from enabled phones or PCs, and VoIP calls with a regular home phone.
The system, with Phone Port, will be available in March for $599.
Fantsel's e-mail ADSI Screenphone (model ST2000) made its debut. It plugs into a telephone jack to make land-line calls (VoIP to come in later models), and sends and receives e-mail. Users must subscribe to a local ISP service.
The phone comes with a keyboard and LED indicators for e-mail waiting, voice message or new call. It can store up to 200 messages with 128KB of internal memory.
The ST2000 also features caller ID with call waiting, three-way conferencing and a backlit LCD screen. It will be available in June. Retail price was not available at press time.
Arkon showed its Parafone Cordless Telephone Springboard module for the Handspring Visor handheld computer. The Parafone, which is shipping, consists of a 900MHz analog-cordless module that snaps into the Springboard slot on the back of the Visor.