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CES: Vendors Voice Value Of VoIP

Vendors at CES this week advanced the idea of voice-over-IP and network-attached storage in the home, announcing a number of new devices that connect directly into the home network.

Vendors at the International Consumer Electronics Show this week advanced the idea of voice-over-IP and network-attached storage in the home, announcing a number of new devices that connect directly into the home network.

VoIP phones and services were a key focus at the massive Las Vegas show. A number of handset manufacturers, such as Uniden, announced products as well as networking vendors such as Linksys, D-Link, NetGear and Soyo. At the same time, service providers like SBC said they plan to enter the market, increasing service options for consumers.

Netgear CEO Patrick Lo said VoIP represents a significant opportunity for the networking company. He quoted recent research that suggest that 25 percent of the millions of existing land lines will move to IP within the next five years.

"It will need some push but we expect to see it big time by 2006," Lo said.

Netgear, Santa Clara, Calif., said it's working on a wireless router that's compatible with AT&T's CallVantage, the carrier's broadband phone service. Pricing and ship dates weren't available.

Linksys, Irving, Calif., which currently offers a VoIP gateway, said it's also investigating VoIP options, citing increased broadband and wireless networks in the home as the impetus for such a move. Though Linksys had no specific products to announce, the networking company, a division of Cisco Systems, said it would look to partner with carriers such at AT&T and Vonage if such an endeavor is launched.

Ontario-based Soyo Group, meanwhile, said it's expanding beyond its traditional motherboard products with the Z-Connect Router. The device will combine a VoIP gateway with a four-port router. The Z-Connect router will include up to 150 minutes of ready-to-use free call time. When the free call time is used, additional time can be purchased on the flexible "pay-as-you-go" plan from Soyo's Web site.

More service providers are also getting into the act. At a keynote session, SBC Communications Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. announced the SBC U-verse, a suite of IP-based products and services set to launch from the San Antonio, Texas-based company in 2005, including integrated, next-generation television, super-high-speed Internet access and VoIP.

Other services in the U-verse suite include Unified Communications, which combines wireline and wireless voice mail, e-mail and faxes into one mailbox. The service is available today but will continue to be enhanced in the coming months. Also, the U-verse family of services will include a consumer-based VoIP service that the company plans to unveil in the first quarter.

Also extending the wireless network were a number of storage devices that connect to the wireless routers and allow consumers and small offices to access data via a SAN.

Buffalo Technology, Austin, Texas, announced the TeraStation, a fault-tolerant device that contains 1-Tbyte of storage along with four USB ports and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. Priced at $999, the device also will include an FTP server.

Buffalo and other vendors are hoping digital rights management restrictions will eventually ease to allow consumers to store digital movies on such devices. Currently, copy protection restricts DVD copying onto PC storage. The capability would open a new market in addition to small offices that need to share data between several users and do regular backups.

At the show, Linksys, D-Link, Netgear also discussed similar devices but in the gigabyte capacity range.

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