Message understood - cut-price calls on the net

IT IS three years since the first suggestions emerged of cheap or even free long-distance and international telephone calls using the internet. Most businesses have still not reached that promised land, but it seems as if larger companies may not have to wait much longer before they can slash their 'phone bills.

Early internet 'phone connections were very basic. Using microphones attached to PCs, the quality of conversation was poor and there was a time delay in hearing the other person. Calls could only be made between PCs that were on-line simultaneously, and between callers with phone cards to plug into their PCs. But these calls cost only a fraction of BT's because they took advantage of local connections to internet service providers, which some cable firms provide free of charge.

Technology has moved on and it is now possible to have good quality conversations, with only a short delay, using calls connected via the internet. Part of the improvement has been achieved as several service providers have enabled callers and recipients to use handsets for conversations. Europe's first internet phone-to-phone service was launched in April by Delta Three, charging around half of BT's international call rates.

According to BT and other big telecoms companies, though, there remain quality problems when using the public internet connections for 'phone calls. One problem is that an internet service provider will usually use the cheapest connections to route traffic. Sending an e-mail from Hampshire to Birmingham via California may sound peculiar, but it should not harm the quality of the transmission. But routing a 'phone conversation around the world can lead to a break-up in the quality of the call.

One solution to this, being worked on by several technology companies, is for internet 'phone calls to be routed in a different way to electronic data traffic, only choosing connections that will provide good-quality voice transmission. A Dedicated Automatic Internet Telephone device should be available later this year from Supertron.

An alternative is not to bother with public internet connections, but to make greater use of companies' own intranets - internal communication networks that use internet protocols. Intranets often connect dispersed offices of big corporations, enabling them not only to send information securely between divisions but to cut the cost of calls. Similar networks are being developed by big telecoms providers between inter- national commercial centres. Telstra began a trial in June involving 250 customers based in Sydney who were able to make calls to London using internet protocols. These are phone-to-phone conversations, and Telstra and equipment supplier Siemens believe that quality problems have been overcome.

BT is involved in similar trials in Europe and the US. By using intranets, which are based on ISDN or better cabling, it is possible to guarantee the quality of transmission, claims BT.

Public internet connections will be increasingly used, says BT, for multimedia uses. Working with Digital, which is producing the hardware, and Microsoft, which provides the software, BT is to offer multimedia call centres to enable corporate buyers to view goods virtually before they buy them.

Cable & Wireless has also conducted internet telephony trials, though so far only internally. In the next year it will carry out a wider trial in conjunction with a big customer, again using internet protocol technology but only within a private intranet.

It may appear that using private protocol networks for selected phone traffic is not much of a step forward, especially if the big telecoms corporations continue to control most of the lines. But C&W says that this hides important technological developments. The internet protocols enable data, including voices, to be compressed, shuffled, transmitted and then reassembled much more efficiently, allowing more traffic to flow. The result will be big reductions in costs to the customer, says C&W.

The domination of the internet telephony market by the big telecoms corporations is not guaranteed. In Ireland a joint venture has been established between internet service provider Ireland On-Line and Networks Telephony of California. This venture is offering cheap international calls using private internet protocol networks. But it is a pre-paid service, requiring access via special handsets provided by the operator. Ireland On-Line says it expects its charges to be half that of other international telecoms providers.

q Contacts: Supertron, 0181 998 6372; Delta Three,; Ireland On-Line,

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has arisen within th...

Ashdown Group: Development Manager - Rickmansworth - £55k +15% bonus

£50000 - £63000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / D...

Recruitment Genius: Security Officer

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Applicants must hold a valid SIA Door Su...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - City, London

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - The C...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss