Unwired pushes into VoIP

Residents and businesses throughout 95 percent of Sydney will soon have the option of side-stepping Telstra's copper-line network altogether for their broadband and telephony services.Wireless broadband provider, Unwired, today said it planned to offer Voice over IP services across its network early next year.

Residents and businesses throughout 95 percent of Sydney will soon have the option of side-stepping Telstra's copper-line network altogether for their broadband and telephony services.

Wireless broadband provider, Unwired, today said it planned to offer Voice over IP services across its network early next year.

Unwired chief executive officer, David Spence today said the company will effectively create a second local-loop reaching 95 percent of the greater Sydney region when it completes its 73-tower wireless network in the next two weeks.

The company is already in the latter phases of planning for a trial of the service, due to start in Sydney before the end of the year.

Spence said the company was currently in negotiations with local carriers to connect its wireless network with public telephone exchanges and acquiring number ranges to be allocated with the service.

When the service is made available, Unwired customers are expected to be able to get a 10-digit telephone number -- much like a mobile phone number -- and will be able to make calls across the wireless network using a regular handset connected to their modems.

Unwired said it was still too early to discuss pricing for the service but Spence said he expected customers would be given unlimited local calls for a fixed rate.

"That'll be part of your monthly fee. We wouldn't charge 25 cents or anything like that --we'd add on AU$10 to AU$20 and say you could have as many local calls as you want," said Spence.

It's unclear at this stage what the company would charge for long-distance and local calls, but Spence said the company was able to go to the global market for call rates.

"We've started discussions with the local carriers, but it doesn't have to be local carriers -- we can go overseas and come back if we want to," said Spence.

The technology is one of a number of new VoIP technologies -- such as Kazaa's peer-to-peer service Skype -- casting doubt on the ability of tier-one carriers such as Telstra to extract revenues from domestic network access regimes.

However, most Australian consumers with a broadband connection in a position to use the service are likely to be using DSL via one of Telstra's copper-access lines -- Unwired removes the need for to rent a copper-line altogether.

"Telstra would be pretty worried about people are starting to escape the need for a second line," said Unwired general manager, Omar Khalifa.

"If we give them an alternative and say 'Here's a second line with your broadband connection' then what's the point of having it anyway?" he added.

Telstra has steadily raised the prices of access to its copper-line rentals over the last 12 to 18 months attracting criticism from the federal opposition and consumer groups.

The last round of increases came in May when Telstra increased its line rental rates between 60 cents and AU$3.45. More hikes are expected next year when the average price of a line could reach as high as AU$32.

The technology left carriers like Telstra in a "precarious position", arguing that further increases in line prices would simply create a greater incentive for customers to leave its network.

"I think we're all going to be involved in trying to work out a new balance and Telstra will take some of the pain and we, hopefully, will be able to take some of the gains," Khalifa said.

Spence took a conciliatory approach to the issue, arguing that the service may actually help Telstra.

"There's pros and cons. I, for one, believe that our service takes a lot of pressure off Telstra where they're getting a lot of pain from certain people at the moment for not providing the service into those areas," he said.

Spence indicated that while Unwired was expecting to roll-out in the bush in the immediate future, the company was eyeing regional areas with interest.

"We'd be keen to get some of the regional areas we could get to 75 percent of the population before our model starts getting a bit iffy; where's there's not enough customers per town," he said.

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