Laurel to compete with Engin in VoIP space

Analysts are predicting big things in Voice over IP telephony in 2005 and the market is responding, with a new service from Laurel Stream Communications launching this week and a USB phone in the works. But other companies have ramped back their VoIP plans.

Analysts are predicting big things in Voice over IP telephony in 2005 and the market is responding, with a new service from Laurel Stream Communications launching this week and a USB phone in the works. But other companies have ramped back their VoIP plans.

Telecommunications hardware vendor Netcomm made its case this week for widespread adoption of VoIP technology by releasing its first analogue to IP telephone converter kit and making public its plans for a USB VoIP phone. Both products are targeted at consumers and small business. The company justified the release by highlighting the increased number of Australians accessing the Internet via broadband.

And at least some analysts agree with Netcomm's claim that "VoIP will quickly become a significant feature of the local landscape". Gartner senior vice-president and manager of Australasian operations Bob Hayward this week listed VoIP as first on his list of the hottest and most influential technologies to watch out for in the Australian market in 2005.

Telstra too, thinks that opportunities lie in the area. The carrier announced in September 2004 that it would make VoIP services available to its residential broadband customers in 2005. According to a statement that the carrier released to the Australian Stock Exchange at that time, Telstra had already begun trialing the service and had committed to deploying a nationally scalable version of the technology across its network by the end of 2005. However other companies are not yet sold on the potential of the technology. While wireless broadband company Unwired was saying as late as September 2004 that its plans to offer commercial VoIP services over its network would come to fruition by April 2005, by mid-February Unwired CEO David Spence had confirmed the plans had been cancelled.

Spence did also acknowledge at the same time though, that significant numbers of Unwired customers were using software applications like Skype to make VoIP calls on the provider's network. This in turn led to Unwired's current plans to make a "prioritised packet service" available for Unwired customers with the aim of improving quality of service for VoIP calls.

NetComm said that its VoIP V100 Analogue Telephone Adaptor (ATA) "is designed to easily convert a regular analogue handset into a VoIP capable phone". The ATA is designed to connect with a broadband Ethernet connection, a normal telephone and an electrical outlet to provide its service. The device does not require a PC to be turned on, but if it is to share a broadband connection then it will need to sit behind a router on a network.

Although Netcomm executive director Michael Boorne acknowledged that significant amounts of broadband consumers in Australia did not currently possess a router, he also highlighted Netcomm's plans to release a model with routing features included. The company also pointed to the impending launch of its USB VoIP phone, which it says will be on the market before the end of March. The product will be a dedicated handset which will connect to a PC USB port, however like ATA it will require a VoIP service provider to make calls over the public Internet.

The USB phone will utilise the Session Initiation Protocol IP telephony standard.

Netcomm's ATA device is currently being marketed under the myfone brand by Laurel Stream Communications, who will provide network services in conjunction with the ATA and allow calls to be routed to and from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Laurel will compete directly with telecomms vendor Engin who released a VoIP service back in September 2004. Engin (a subsidiary of Mobile Innovations Ltd), provides a product named 'Voice Box' which provides similar functionality to Netcomm's ATA. At the time it was released Engin claimed that its service would "assist households and SOHOs to reduce their phone bills by up to 40 percent". Netcomm's Boorne made similar claims about his company's ATA this week. According to Rene Sugo, technical director of telecommunications system integration company Symbio Networks, his company built Laurel's network from scratch in just four weeks, although it made heavy use of Emergent Network Solution's ENTICE software, which provides an "all-in-one IP call control platform". Symbio is also claiming that Laurel has established "the first VoIP point of presence in Sydney".