AT&T plans Net phone trials in Asia, Europe

The long-distance giant plans to extend its CallVantage VoIP service to businesses in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom by 2005.

AT&T is taking its Internet telephony services to enterprises in Asia and Europe.

On Tuesday, the company announced plans to conduct trials of its voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, service in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The trials are slated to start in the third quarter and will be targeted to multinational companies. AT&T expects to launch the service in 2005.

The offerings for Asian and European markets are to based on the company's CallVantage service, which launched in the United States in March and was expanded last month. CallVantage is designed to enable workers to use VoIP from their homes or hotels over available broadband connections. Features include voice mail, call logs and conference calling with up to 10 people per call. The company said it expects to have 1 million businesses and homes signed up by the end of 2005.

VoIP has been gaining popularity as a way to cut costs by sending calls over IP-based networks--the Internet or private corporate networks--rather than over traditional landline systems, which are heavily regulated and taxed. Drawbacks of VoIP include spotty voice quality, the lack of battery backup to phones and problems with the routing of 911 calls.

This week, Primus Telecommunications launched an inexpensive package for long-distance calling via IP, and StanaPhone Communications unveiled a VoIP service that includes 100 free minutes monthly.

As more start-ups have launched such services, mainline carriers have jumped on the VoIP bandwagon. Over the last year, AT&T said, the number of its business customers using its VoIP services has jumped four times.

"If the promise of IP can be harnessed with remotely deployed employees and combined with a robust portfolio of VoIP-enabled networking solutions, it will positively influence a business's return-on-investment model," Cathy Martine, AT&T's senior vice president for Internet telephony, said in a statement. "This, in turn, should stimulate more demand."

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