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, www.delta three.com; Ireland On-Line, iol.ie

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administration Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

Ashdown Group: Solvency II Project Manager - 10 month contract - £800 p/d

£800 per day: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, global financial services co...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'