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3/31/2004
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Opportunity Knocks For Voice Over IP

Jeff Pulver,who this year convinced the FCC to keep his company's Free World Dialup service free from regulatory constraints, says the industry needs to set its sights higher than merely providing voice services over the Internet.

Jeff Pulver, one of the most recognized people in the voice over IP arena, says the industry is in still in the early adopter stage and there's "lot's of opportunities" to make the technology better.

Speaking Tuesday at the Spring VON 2004 IP Communications Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. pulver told attendees that they need to set their sights higher than merely providing voice services over the Internet. Some experts say voice over IP will gradually supplant traditional voice communications over the next 20 years.

"We're still in the early adopter phase of this market," said Pulver, who gained mainstream notoriety earlier this year when the Federal Communications Commission granted his position to keep his company's Free World Dialup service free from regulatory constraints.

Pulver, wearing a summer-of-love shirt, took digital pictures of the crowd during the keynote, and exhorted attendees to take IP communications beyond plugging phones into digital subscriber lines. Instead, voice over IP providers need to think bigger--about new applications and more ubiquitous, easy-to-use services.

"There are lots of opportunities to make (IP communications) better," Pulver said, adding that the voice-over-IP world could use some Apple Computer-style marketing or product innovation. "We need someone to come in and change the way we market," Pulver said of the technology.

The maverick CEO urged attendees to "be passionate and become engaged" in the political and regulatory arenas that will have a major impact on the evolution of the technology. Sometimes, Pulver said, "it's hard to believe your voice does matter."

The FCC is currently considering requests by local phone companies who want to charge access fees to voice-over-IP companies plugging into standard networks in order to reach the public Internet or a private backbone.

Besides access charges, the FCC also is examining whether to impose universal service fees, the 10% surcharge on long-distance charges; requiring 911 service, and imposing wiretapping rules on voice-over-IP communications.

Access charges sought by Verizon, SBC, and BellSouth was the subject of debate at the conference on Monday. Late that day, a group of nine small voice-over-IP providers and the VON Coalition, an industry group that includes AT&T, sent a letter to key policymakers in Congress and the FCC, urging them not to impose the charges on the nascent industry.

In the letter, the group argued that the fees would be a financial burden on the small companies that are on the "cutting edge of delivering innovations to consumers."

Along with the speeches by proponents, new products were unveiled at the conference Wednesday.

Netrake, a company that sells technology for controlling voice and multimedia across IP networks, unveiled new features in its nCite platform for carriers, including a Hosted Firewall/NAT Traversal service for authentication in accessing home voice-over-IP networks. A new mobility feature enables enterprise users to access work VPNs and/or voice-over-IP services while working out of the office.

Spirent Communications launched the CTM-5000, a bundle of convergence test and measurement applications for the Abacus 5000 IP Telephony Test Migration System. The CTM-5000 tests IP telephony interoperability among various devices and systems.

Brix Networks launched TestYourVoIP.com, a free, self-service testing portal that enables users to measure the quality of their voice-over=IP connections via a quick, user-initiated test call.

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