Australians do not understand the difference between Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and traditional telephony services, while many VoIP providers are not aware of customer protection rules, an industry body said today.
The Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) said these problems had prompted it to release a fact sheet explaining to VoIP and Internet telephony providers what they need to tell consumers.
VoIP sends voice information in digital form over Internet Protocol-based networks rather than via the traditional hardware circuits of the public switched telephony network (PSTN). A major advantage of VoIP and Internet telephony is that it can potentially avoid the tolls charged by ordinary telephone services.
"One of the major problems is that consumers often don't understand the differences between VoIP and the telephone services they have traditionally used. So they expect to enjoy the same voice quality and all of the functions of a standard telephone service," ACIF chief executive officer Anne Hurley said.
"The other side of the coin is that some of the new breed of VoIP providers are not aware of the telecommunications regulatory safeguards that have been developed over the years to protect Australian consumers."
According to Hurley, the fact sheet released today is her organisation's answer to consumers' request for help in identifying quality VoIP providers and making an informed choice. It is a "guide" for VoIP providers on what information they should be telling consumers.
The ACIF fact sheet says that service providers must tell customers about any matter that affects the service or its quality and any special requirements to support the service such as hardware or software. It also requires providers to tell customers about all aspects of the charging arrangements and consumer protection such as the customer's right to complain.
The fact sheet especially highlights the need to inform consumers of the limitations of VoIP and Internet telephony services, such as access to the emergency services 000 number and if emergency services will be able to locate the caller's street address. The fact sheet also includes questions regarding the service availability when power is lost.
International Data Corp (IDC) recently published the result of its study saying that Australia's enterprise IP telephony market grew 98 percent in 2004 compared to 2003.
The growth included increase in revenue, IP phones and IP PBX access. The study also revealed the shipment of IP phones in 2004 more than doubled compared to 2003. Shipments grew 176 percent, bringing the number of IP phones in Australia to more than 200,000.