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VoIP Handsets Getting Smarter At CES

VoIP products will continue their great migration at International CES, as intelligence migrates from the network to the handsets and the handsets migrate ever further from the PC.

In April, VTech will offer a dual-mode cordless for Yahoo! Messenger capable of sending e-mails and instant messages via the handset. The DECT-based ip8300 infoPhone updates an existing product for Yahoo! and offers PSTN and Yahoo! Messenger calling.

The phone can connect to broadband modems via an Ethernet port, allowing consumers to access Yahoo! services with a PC turned off. It also supports content delivery, including local news, sports and weather reports and access to a user’s Yahoo! address book. The system is expandable to up to five handsets (the ip831) for a suggested $49.95.

In addition to its VoIP functionality, the ip8300 offers caller ID, handset speakerphone and distinctive ring tones for landline and VoIP calls. It will retail for $129.

A far greater number of hardware will be introduced for Skype’s calling service, including several that connect directly to broadband modems for Skype calling with the PC turned off.

In the past year, Skype has brought roughly 150 products to retail, according to Eric Largier, business development director. Skype spent 2006 focused on creating new product categories for Skype — like Wi-Fi phones and dual-mode cordless products. In 2007, Largier said the focus would center less on creating new categories than on filling out the existing ones with a larger array of models.

“We’re looking to leverage our online store to offer more attractive promotions,” Largier added.

Linksys will offer its first Skype Wi-Fi phone, the WIP320, for an estimated $199. The model lets users place Skype calls on the road at open hot spots and at home over wireless networks. The company will also offer a dual-mode PSTN/Skype phone that connects directly to a broadband modem or router. The CIT 400 is expected to ship in the summer for $179.

In the second quarter, Thomson will ship the GE 28310, a DECT-based model that plugs into a broadband modem. The $179 phone can also place PSTN calls and supports Skype conferences with up to four callers and PSTN/Skype conferencing. The handset packs a speakerphone, color display with buddy lists and call logs, and a 200-entry phone book. The phone can keep pace with Skype service updates through Internet firmware upgrades.

Networking vendor Netgear will also offer a dual-mode Skype/PSTN phone — the SPH200D — that connects directly to a modem. The DECT-based phone can be expanded to a total of four handsets and offers 12 hours of talktime and 120 hours of standby time.

Bridging Skype and landlines won’t fall to just dual-mode cordless phones. Auvi will launch the second generation in its WIP line of Skype adapters that allow consumers to use their existing home phones for making Skype calls. Consumers can plug a traditional home phone into the WIP22 and program speed dial keys for Skype contacts. Once connected to a WIP the phone can send and receive Skype calls when the computer is on and the Skype application is running. The WIP22 supports conferencing a Skype call with a PSTN call and works with both dial-up and broadband connections.