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Net2Phone Adds Wi-Fi VoIP to Strategy

Net2Phone has cut the cord on its Voice over Internet Protocol platform.

The Newark, N.J., firm has enhanced its product to allow service providers to offer Wi-Fi VoIP connections to consumers.

Net2Phone views Wi-Fi VoIP as a cheap alternative to residential landlines because it bypasses last mile networks and most phone company fees.

The company's SIP-based platform handles call management, billing and provisioning, while offering popular calling features like call waiting, caller ID and voicemail.

"We view this as a logical evolution of our platform," Bryan Wiener, president of Net2Phone's global services, told internetnews.com.

Net2Phone's VoIP platform will also support Wi-Max , the nascent technology that extends the range of broadband wireless signals by up to 25 miles.

Currently, there are no Wi-Max handsets available. When there are, probably next year, Net2Phone sees the market for its wireless VoIP platform expanding into rural areas in the United States and worldwide.

The company is in discussions with mobile phone makers about the troublesome issue of Wi-Fi compatibility, an area that industry watchers remain optimistic about.

According to ABI Research, shipments of dual-mode cellular/voice-over-Wi-Fi enabled handsets will top 50 million by 2009. Though products are not expected until later this year, the research firm predicts that dual-mode phones will represent about 7 percent of all handsets shipped by 2009.

"We think this is very early and that 2004 is when lot of partnerships will be formed," Wiener said.

To that end, Net2Phone is working with mobile phone makers, wireless ISPs, cable companies and others to be sure that its platform will be compatible with new technologies.

The company charges service providers based on the number of customers they have, so the financial risk of deploying new services is minimal, Wiener said. Integrating the billing and other systems can take about a month.

IDT , a pre-paid phone card provider that owns a 25 percent stake in Net2Phone, will be the first customer for the Wi-Fi VoIP offering. IDT will deploy commercial Wi-Fi phone service in several U.S. markets, starting with the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey.

The initial deployment will make use of wide area Wi-Fi coverage (sometimes called hot zones to differentiate from smaller access points dubbed hot spots), and therefore will not require that customers buy a broadband connection, said Rob Schwarz, executive vice president of IDT.

It will, however, require that customers buy a Wi-Fi-enabled phone. IDT has not yet announced its pricing plans.

Service in Newark is expected to be ready within two months and serve as a model for future rollouts. When activated, IDT said it will be the first commercially available Wi-Fi phone service.