BT offers Internet voice calls

Voice calls on the Net could be one killer app for ADSL

Making a phone call will never be the same again according to British Telecommunications (quote: BT) which acknowledged that telephone calls are shifting from their traditional home on the telephone network to the Internet as it rolled out its first commercial voice-over-IP service Tuesday.

BT will trial initial voice-over-IP services -- BT Ignite -- in the corporate arena and has partnered with interactive TV service Open. Open employees will be able to communicate with each other via realtime voice and multimedia Internet link.

While critics of the telecoms giant argue that voice-over-IP will ultimately be a disaster for it, vice president of Internet services Craig Boundy believes voice calls over the Internet will be commonplace soon. "BT Ignite's ultimate goal is for everyone to be using the Internet for real-time communications," he says.

That vision will require the roll out of ADSL, which, says Boundy will be the perfect way of providing people with subscription-based voice calls. "Obviously people will want calls on a subscription basis. ADSL presents us with an opportunity to provide voice over IP (VoIP)."

Although Internet calls should not cost users any more than their Internet access fee BT admits it is considering hiking the monthly subscription price for the broadband service. "We have to recover the costs of implementing voice over IP but whether this would mean a raised subscription fee has not been agreed yet."

BTopenworld currently charges £39.99 for its ADSL service.

BT already offers consumers a limited VoIP service: SurfTalk. Like most VoIP solutions it allows users to make calls over the Internet, but only to users with SurfTalk installed on their PC. Boundy is keen to emphasis that VoIP is not about "cheap calls" but about its usefulness in what he describes as "multimedia communications".

Initially though BT believes it can make more headway with implementing the technology in businesses. "At the moment it is a commercial product and runs over an intranet," explains Boundy.

BT Ignite will spend £5bn on its IP infrastructure across Europe in the next three years.

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