CeBIT 98: Internet telephony gets the nod from Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom(DT), Germany's principal telecoms company, has announced new Internet-based services for fast access and cheaper telephone calls.

In preparation for CeBIT '98, DT said it would be offering 'tourist class' international telephone calls using Internet Protocol (IP) technologies developed in conjunction with Israeli Internet telecoms company, Vocaltec. This follows the extensive T-Netcall field trials in Japan, Germany and the US, culminating late last year with a full commercial beta test in the UK.

A spokesman for DT said the company was pleasantly surprised with user perceptions of quality and availability, two aspects of Internet telephony that have so far prevented widespread commercial use. Various reports on the audio quality of calls range from 'cellphone quality' to 'same as ordinary telephones'.

T-Netcall works without extra equipment at the subscriber's end. Users make a call to a central exchange, enter an ID code and the destination number. DT's normal international rates to the countries in the beta test are around 1.32 DM a minute - roughly 42p - but IP-based calls cost 24 pfennigs - 8 pence - a minute. DT has yet to announce tariff details for the full commercial service, due to start in the autumn.

Andrew Entwistle, principal consultant at the Cambridge telecommunications consultancy, Analysys, commented: "The voice over IP service shows DT's desire not to be caught out by the drop in international tariffs. It's part of the trend, not part of the driving force."

At home, British Telecom (BT) is sticking to its claim that voice over Internet is not good enough for a commercial service due to a fundamental lack of quality, although its Martlesham Heath laboratories are testing a set of services based around a combination of voice, data and fax. BT is committed to ADSL and DSL.lite - the consumer-installable 1.5Mbps service currently being finalised - and will have a 2000 home trial in West London by mid-summer. A spokesperson said there were no technical questions about BT's network being able to run with these services, but the commercial side needed exploration. A list of companies working with BT during these trials has yet to be announced, although VideoNet has already said it will be testing video-on-demand services.