Starting in mid-October AT&T, in partnership with industry-leader Linksys (a division of Cisco Systems
, will begin offering Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to home users across the country. The service, available to AT&T’s CallVantage customers, will utilize custom-designed hardware to provide broadband Internet access, along with affordable domestic and international long-distance calling.
To take advantage of the nationwide VoIP service, which lets users make telephone calls over their broadband Internet connection, users will need to have broadband Internet access at home—either DSL or cable—and then purchase a Linksys Wired Router with 2 Phone Ports or a Wireless-G Router with 2 phone ports. The Ethernet version is currently available directly from AT&T, and Linksys expects that all versions will be available at retail outlets such as Staples, Best Buy, Circuit City and Office Depot later this month. The routers will also allow users to network several computers while simultaneously talking over their high-speed Internet connections
For now, the products don’t support or offer any Wi-Fi-based handsets—instead a standard phone is plugged into the offered phone ports.
Interested consumers can call AT&T to order the $29.95/month service and the equipment all at once, or they can buy the hardware separately at retail, and then activate it by calling AT&T. The cost for equipment is roughly the same however the user gets it, and Linksys expects the set-up process to be quick and simple.
“It takes maybe five minutes, tops,” says Mike Wagner, director of World Wide Marketing at Linksys. “That’s another reason why we customize the equipment to each service provider’s requirements—it makes installation a breeze.”
AT&T is the third major service provider to partner with Linksys to provide VoIP to home users. Vonage and Verizon also use custom-designed Linksys hardware. Just as with cell phones, the hardware will only work with the service it is meant for and can only be sold with that service provider’s options.
Home users should be aware that, unlike a traditional telephone line, this one won’t operate during power failures. (If the router has no power it can’t work.) And 911 emergency dialing varies from state to state and city to city with VoIP.
Linksys, which is rated number one in consumer sales of Wi-Fi products according to Synergy Research Group, cites their usability as the primary secret to their success.
“We make them so easy to install,” says Wagner, “and we back them with great technical support. We were the leader in wireless from the first day it shipped at retail and we’ve been doing VoIP for almost two months. We’re building a leadership position in this category as well. The great user experience keeps people coming back.”
Some experts expect the number of VoIP users to jump to ten million in the next five years, and Linksys expects to provide the hardware for a lion’s share of those consumers.
“We’ve reached a point where so many homes have high-speed Internet service,” says Wagner. “This is one more way to get additional value out of that Internet connection. Initially users got broadband to browse the Web, but now you can use it to make unlimited calls in the U.S. and Canada for $29.95 a month, and international rates start around four cents a minute.”
VoIP users may also have the opportunity to choose their own area code, making it more affordable for friends and relatives to phone them as well.
For users who want to understand more about how VoIP works, Linksys has created a VoIP Web site, which explains the technology and its benefits.