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AT&T’s Martine Lays Out VoIP Vision

VoIP is not just a “next step” in home telephony but a revolution in communications that will eventually transform and empower consumers and businesses with new tools and greater control over their communication, said Cathy Martine, senior VP, Internet telephony, AT&T, speaking at a keynote speech at the DigitalLife show, here.

Martine sketched out her company’s vision for VoIP telephony as it emerges into the consumer and retail markets, emphasizing that the technology has only begun to flex its transformative muscle.

“With VoIP you will determine where, how and with whom you communicate with,” Martine said, demonstrating her company’s “find me” call forwarding system and detailed online call log management that lets users listen to voice mail as a QuickTime file through an Internet browser.

She added that more enhanced features, including video and data, will be offered as the market matures. AT&T will focus on developing network functionality and new features, while equipment suppliers like D-Link, Netgear and Linksys will generate compatible products.

“One in four households now have broadband, so it won’t take long for VoIP to hit its stride,” Martine said. In a separate interview, Martine called VoIP a “killer app” for broadband, saying it will drive further high-speed subscriptions as consumers recognize the value in Internet calling.

That value includes free calling features, like caller ID, call waiting and call forwarding, that landline telephone companies charge users for individually. Those features, and others, are all wrapped into a $29.99 monthly plan that also includes unlimited local and long-distance calls.

While VoIP “starts with a great value,” it will emerge as more than cheap calling, Martine said, as new technologies come online.

The big demographic drivers for Internet telephony will be “teleworkers” who spend their days laboring in home offices and “screenagers” — children who interact as frequently with the LCDs on their phones and computer monitors than with their human peers, Martine said.

Courting these two demographics will be key for AT&T going forward, Martine said, and leveraging newly established retail partnerships with Best Buy will move VoIP into the mainstream.

“Our big hurdle is customer awareness, and we see retail as critical for growth,” Martine said. “We don’t have data yet on how the retail model drives subscriptions, but we know that, in the case of Best Buy for instance, it really helps to have their salespeople out there educating people,” Martine said.

She also noted that the regulatory environment “keeps me up nights” and urged state and federal legislatures to adopt policies “favorable to growth.”