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Level 3 Rolls Out VoIP Product Line

Level 3 Communications, Inc., is going to change the way people communicate with Tuesday's voice over IP (VoIP) product line announcement.

The (3)Voice Exchange lets people communicate over their personal computer or an IP "smart" phone, bypassing the traditional phone services and its minute-by-minute and toll charges.

While the service won't be available until later this year, Level 3 will be accepting orders for the service starting Sept. 18. It will be available in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. By the end of the year, the service will be available in Europe and Asia.

Phil Freiberg, Level 3 senior director of global voice products management, said that his company's approach to VoIP is different but more practical than other, first-to-market products out there.

"While I don't think the (3)Voice Exchange is the first voice over IP product, I think our approach is more practical than those used by our competitors," Freiberg said.

"If you buy voice you're charged on a minute-by-minute basis," Freiberg said. "From the first time you connect to Level 3, you're sending the voice traffic over the TCP/IP standard, as opposed to the circuits used by the telephone companies. As far as we're concerned voice traffic is a lot like data traffic, with some differences. But the customer pays like you would pay for Internet traffic, with a flat-rate fee for the amount of voice traffic sent over our network."

The ramifications are huge for phone users around the world. Companies like AT&T Corp. and Sprint Corp. , which provide traditional long-distance phone services, will have to completely revamp services to compete with the flat-rate IP phones and the reduced prices it will entail.

Level 3's offering is the first in the industry to use the Session Initiation Protocol-based IP standard, which was adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force. SIP is an open, scalable Internet-based standard that initiates voice and data communications.

The standard clears the way for IP telephony providers, which can include anyone from long-distance phone companies like AT&T, local phone companies, competitive local exchange carriers, cable operators and wireless providers.

IP telephony is considered on of the last great, unregulated frontiers for communications companies. The Federal Communications Commission has already stated it will not regulate the fledgling industry.

It all points to the convergence of the telephone, television and the computer onto one platform.

Ike Elliot, Level 3 senior vice president of global softswitch services, said his company's IP telephony product means a departure from the expensive circuits and cost savings for everyone involved.

"The development of (3)Voice Exchange further solidifies Level 3's softswitch leadership and commitment to making quality communications faster, less expensive and more productive," Elliott said. "Using (3)Voice Exchange, Level 3 customers can connect to our high quality network in a pure IP format. This new capability means our customers won't have to buy traditional and expensive circuit switches to connect their voice traffic to our network."



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