SBC Elbows Into VOIP

SBC Communications has unveiled Voice over Internet Protocol service for mid-level enterprise customers, the latest indication that the technology is going mainstream.

SBC PremierSERV, which runs from $29 to $39 per user per month, is part of a new portfolio of managed services. It’s now available in the San Antonio telecom’s 13-state region and will go national early next year with additional options, including a network-based virtual private network .

The offering comes at a time of rising interest in VOIP. Businesses and consumers are looking to combine their voice and data networks on a single platform to simplify management and save money.

The systems can also enable new tools such as a single inbox for voice and e-mail messages, “click-to-call” functionality from PCs, and “find me, follow me” call routing.

Responding to demand, SBC’s Baby Bell brethren as well as its cable competitors are in various stages of testing VOIP service. Denver-based Qwest says it’s planning a VOIP pilot program for Minnesota consumers and small business next month.

Also, a number of independent providers, including Vonage and Net2Phone , which said today it grossed $58 million in a secondary offering of its stock.

“One of our differentiators is SBC’s history as a telephone company,” SBC spokeswoman Laura Slagle told “The service is not going over the public Internet but our private network so it will be high-quality.”

For SBC, the new package allows it to target a lucrative enterprise market. Because VOIP isn’t subject to the same stringent regulations as legacy voice network traffic (at least for now), it’s easier for SBC to expand its geographic reach and potentially revenues and profit.

In addition, the services are relatively flexible, so SBC can phase-in customers without hitting them for a large capital equipment bill upfront. The actual amount of gear a company needs to use the service will vary, however the VOIP offering works with any analog of IP phone.

The emergence of VoIP, which essentially uses the Internet to transmit local and long distance calls, has prompted some state and local authorities to weight taxing the service like traditional telephone service.

Last month, a federal judge approved a request by Vonage that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission be restrained from requiring Vonage to register as a telephone provider to provide its IP telephony services to customers in the state. The ruling grants Vonage a permanent injunction.

The Federal Communications Commission has planned a Dec. 1 forum in Washington to begin shaping a regulatory framework for VOIP. It’s clear, from SBC, Qwest and others, that they’re not waiting for regulators to catch up with the market.

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