Voice Over IP Is More Than Talk - InformationWeek

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05:17 PM

Voice Over IP Is More Than Talk

Businesses in growing numbers are beginning to embrace voice and video over IP to cut costs and improve collaboration

Voice over IP isn't just for talking anymore. The technology has improved to the point where many businesses are using it for videoconferences. And vendors have rolled out a variety of products to let companies take advantage of the new capabilities.

Think3 Inc.'s 375 employees work in 22 cities spread across 10 time zones. The product life-cycle-management software company is based in Cincinnati, yet its 17 executive officers in India, Japan, Italy, France, and North America attend a two-hour staff meeting every Monday morning.

Think3 uses voice over IP for staff meetings, VP Levison says.
The executives log on to a Web server via VidiTel, an application from Santa Cruz Networks Inc. that enables voice, video, and data conferencing over the Internet for only $40 per month. "We use between 25,000 and 35,000 minutes of VidiTel server time monthly and can have up to 100 users access the network at once," says Jim Levison, VP of finance at Think3.

Consulting firm Forte Group uses voice-over-IP software from IntraTel LLC to conduct voice and videoconferences with clients to cut down on travel needed to conduct face-to-face meetings. "It's more important to save time because productivity is at stake," says Martin Scheid, a partner at Forte, which helps emerging companies with growth and financing strategies. "You can spend a whole day traveling for a two-hour meeting."

Analysts estimate 100,000 consumers and more than 13,000 businesses are already making voice-over-IP calls on the Internet. Businesses looking to implement the technology for voice or video have several options. Some systems, like the one from Santa Cruz Networks, require customers to route traffic through a server. Other vendors sell voice over IP as a service and charge based on usage.

IntraTel's Connect application can connect up to 16 users on a voice conference and as many as seven users for a videoconference, without the need for bridges, Web servers, or network modifications. The software runs about $550.

IntraTel in October signed an agreement to become one of more than 20 partners for Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 and Microsoft Windows Messenger, a peer-to-peer voice, video, and data- communications desktop application. IntraTel Connect expands the functionality in Office Live to multiple users.

"IntraTel is filling an important feature we don't include in our baseline product," says Marc Sanders, lead project manager for the real-time collaboration business unit at Microsoft. Microsoft is working with several partners on multiparty voice, video, and data collaboration, he says.

Radvision Corp. and First Virtual Communications Inc. offer similar applications that are compatible with Office Live, Sanders says. Microsoft will unveil plans in the first quarter for an updated version of Office Live later this year that could embed features its partners now offer, he says.

The growth of voice over IP poses a threat to conventional phone companies, which generate more than $2.5 trillion in annual revenue. As a result, a battle is brewing in Washington and in states on the proper way to regulate voice over IP--or whether it should be regulated at all.

Phone companies aren't the only vendors facing a threat. "As more companies attempt to join the video- and voice-conferencing market with software application services," says Paul Strauss, research manager for enterprise networks at research firm IDC, "it could take share from the IP PBX hardware vendors, who will respond quickly with low-end voice and videoconferencing."

Several local phone companies have unveiled plans for voice-over-IP services. Verizon says it will invest $3 billion to add that capability to its networks during the next two years and soon offer the ability to manage calls on the Web.

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