By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
While companies like Vonage and AT&T fight for the right to become “home phone replacements,” a vast array of companies are setting their sites on co-existence. PC-based VoIP services from search engines and start-up firms are offering consumers a way to place inexpensive VoIP calls from their PCs using accessory handsets or headphones and are now adding the ability to dial out from the PC to reach landlines and cellular phones.
8x8 announced a partnership with PC-board maker Legerity to develop “phone-ready” PCs that could call over 8x8's VoIP network. The deal would let PC makers sell Packet8-ready computers with a jack to plug in their existing analog phones. According to 8x8 sales and marketing VP Huw Rees, the PC would serve as the terminal adapter in a typical VoIP setup, but the PC would need to be on for calls to be sent or received.
“We envision it as a stepping stone between a soft phone and a stand-alone terminal adapter,” Rees said.
8x8 is also enhancing its PC VoIP software to allow PC users to place video calls to consumers with the company's Packet8 video phone. The company is trying to make an end-run around the perennial “two-phone” problem that has hampered videophone sales, Rees said. With 8x8's new PC soft phone software, Web cam users can dial Packet8 videophone owners and vice versa.
Yahoo announced a new Messenger with voice service that will let a user call from a PC to a mobile or land-line phone for two cents a minute and receive calls on a PC from outside lines for $2.99 per month or $29.90 a year. The company's Messenger with Voice takes aim at Skype, which offers a similar service. Yahoo's service also offers free voice mail.
Earlier in March, Yahoo and Siemens announced a hardware partnership that will integrate the search engine's VoIP capabilities into Siemens' Gigaset cordless phones. Siemens will sell the M34 USB adapter to connect to a PC and allow select Siemens cordless models to send and receive Yahoo voice calls from their cordless handsets. It will also enable the handsets to display Yahoo contacts on the LCD screen.
The adapter will be available by the third quarter of the year. Pricing was not announced. Yahoo also has a co-branded relationship with VTech, which supplies a USB handset (the USB7200) for use with Yahoo's voice service.
Another search engine, Lycos, announced plans to enter into the VoIP market with an advertising-based model. The new Lycos phone service, developed in conjunction with communications provider Globe7, allows for free PC-to-PC calls, including free video calling, and unlimited incoming calls from land-line or cellular phones. Users can elect to pay one cent per minute to place calls from the PC to landlines and mobile phones or can earn free calling by signing up for credit cards, Netflix and other advertising/promotional offers.
Lycos users get a U.S. phone number and free voice-mail-to-e-mail functionality.
Finally, a new service was announced late in March which promises to marry VoIP calling with traditional analog telephony. Luxembourg-based Jajah bills its service as “Web-activated telephony” as consumers can use their existing land-line telephones and don't need to download soft-phone applications.
To use the service, consumers first type their own land-line number and then the desired calling number into Jajah's Web site. The service rings the caller's line first, and once a connection is established, automatically dials the second number. Domestic callers will be billed 1.7 cents per minute.
The service does not require a broadband connection.
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