Cheap telephone calls made using broadband internet connections came a step closer yesterday when Ofcom, the industry regulator, laid out its plans to help the take-up of the new technology.
Stephen Carter, Ofcom's chief executive, said: "Broadband voice services are a new and emerging market. Our first task as regulator is to keep out of the way."
However Mr Carter said that as the market for voice over broadband (VoB) developed, Ofcom would take steps to ensure consumers were kept informed and had their rights protected. Ofcom said increasing competition in the wholesale broadband market would mean consumers would benefit from a wide range of providers.
The technology works by turning voice calls into data packages and routing them over the internet using the new generation of high speed, broadband internet connections. It will replace the traditional network of telephone exchanges that switch calls between lines.
However, the trend in broadband connections is to give consumers unlimited internet access for a monthly fee. This means calls to other broadband users will be included in the package, along with all other online usage.
"Ofcom believes that the emergence of these services will offer important benefits to consumers. Call costs should reduce significantly. Where a call connects from one VoB to another, the only costs to the consumer is typically a standard monthly fee, regardless as to whether the call is to the next town or to the other side of the world," the regulator said.
Ofcom also outlined plans for a new numbering system for VoB users. Providers will be able to offer customers who are switching from traditional services geographic numbers beginning with 01 or 02 that will allow them to keep their existing home telephone numbers. There will also be a new code, 056, not linked to any location which can be used anywhere in the country.
BT said it was planning a major marketing push to highlight its own VoB service, called BT Communicator. The Internet Telephony Service Providers Association (ITSPA), an industry trade body, welcomed Ofcom's statement. Eli Katz, a founder member, said: "ITSPA welcomes the new stance, and all the key issues we called for have been delivered. We hope to continue to be actively involved in the shaping of policy and other industry-led activities, including a code of practice, which will be crucial for the successful growth of this area."
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