VoIP 'the key' to true Broadband Britain

Internet-based telephone services could radically change the UK's Internet market, says a new study

Internet phone services could play a vital part in driving the rollout of extremely fast Web connections across Britain, according to research published on Monday by Brunel University.

After visiting Japan to studying its broadband market, researchers at Brunel University's Broadband Research Centre believe that voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will have a massive influence on broadband markets in the next few years. The Brunel academics say it could encourage UK-based telcos to offer much faster services than are available today.

"The UK broadband community needs to sit up and take note of the example Japan is setting," urged Dr Jyoti Choudrie, operations director at the Brunel Broadband Research Centre.

"Whereas the UK is lagging behind in the transmission from circuit-switched networks to IP voice traffic, Japan is charging forward. This enables ISPs to offer huge reductions in telephony costs for its broadband subscribers, boosts demand and provides a catalyst for new services," Choudrie explained.

Unlike in the UK, where 512 kilobits-per-second (Kbps) services are the norm -- and some telcos even claim that services as slow as 150Kbps count as broadband -- Japan has a true high-speed broadband infrastructure.

One in four Japanese homes have a broadband connection, compared to less than 10 percent of UK households. And in Japan, 12Mbps services are standard.

According to Brunel, VoIP was a major factor in the success of Broadband Japan. "The ability to make inexpensive or even free phone calls has become the 'killer application' in Japan and a number of ISPs -- notably Yahoo BB -- offer a bundled IP telephony and broadband service," said the research centre in a statement released on Monday.

While VoIP offers substantial cost savings for customers, it could be a big threat to the income streams of incumbent telecoms firms -- who get a large chunk of their revenues from voice calls.

In the UK, BT recently made a move into the VoIP scene with a product aimed at customers of NTL and Telewest, its cable rivals.