Vonage brings VoIP service to the UK

In its first move into Western Europe, Vonage is 'getting a feel' for the market with the release of its VoIP products in the UK

US-based voice-over-IP company Vonage has opened for business in the UK, its first European market, with options for both home and small business users.

Home users pay £9.99 per month for unlimited local and national calls, low international rates and features such as caller ID and voicemail; the £18.99 small business offering adds to this a fax line.

Both can be ordered from the company's UK Web site, which launched on Tuesday.

Vonage offers voice services over a standard phone line and requires broadband and the installation of a hardware adapter to convert between analogue and digital signals.

The launch went off with little fanfare, though a company spokesperson said a full marketing push is expected later this year.

The idea, he explained, is to follow the patterns established in the US and Canada where Vonage officially launched its VoIP services eight or nine months before undertaking a publicity campaign, during which time the company "got a feel for the market".

Along with marketing directly to customers, Vonage is in talks with UK retailers to bundle Vonage services with products sold in stores, as it has done with retailers in the US. It hopes to be on shop shelves by the end of the year.

Entering the UK's competitive low-cost voice market, Vonage aims to differentiate itself through competitive pricing, a simple mobile phone rate plan and free, advanced features such as voicemail you can pick up on the Web, according to the spokesperson.

BT, which is planning a pure IP network, has said it does not see VoIP as a threat to its business.

Up until the UK launch, Vonage was available only in the US and Canada. The company is now looking to expand further into Western Europe and the Pacific Rim.

Earlier this week, fellow VoIP company Skype - whose product differs from Vonage's in that it's an application run on a computer rather than service over a standard phone line -- launched version 1.1 of its voice software, featuring revamped instant-messaging capabilities and a new look. Skype is also testing a voicemail service it hopes to launch this spring, a feature previously promised by CEO Niklas Zennstrom.

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