Sat, Feb 05, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Internet telephony cuts the cost of reaching out

TALK TIMENew technology makes it unnecessary to keep an eye on the clock while making international calls

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

It's time to say "Happy Lunar New Year" to your family and friends -- including those who are abroad.

As has become customary, fixed-line phone companies are offering discounted rates during the Lunar New Year holiday, but international calls are still considered to be prohibitively expensive, preventing callers from staying on the line very long.

This year, with the burgeoning Voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) technology making cheap or even free phone calls much more accessible, it is no longer necessary to keep an eye on the clock while making international calls.

According to an estimate by the International Telecommunication Union, VoIP calls will account for 79 percent of all phone calls worldwide this year.

The hottest Internet telephony software of the year is undoubtedly Skype, which was developed by Skype Technologies SA and introduced to Taiwan in July last year. More than 2.86 million copies of the Skype software have been downloaded in Taiwan.

Users can make free calls to other Skype users, or make calls from their computer to a fixed line or mobile phone for one-eighth to one-third the price charged by fixed-line carriers.

For example, Skype charges NT$0.714 per minute for calls to the US and Canada from Taiwan, and NT$0.924 per minute for calls to China.

Those who do not want to pay anything at all can try TELTEL, another VoIP application that is gaining popularity among users. TELTEL is still in a test phase and is free of charge when making international calls, even from computers to home phones.

Before the advent of Skype, several Internet service providers (ISPs) had introduced Internet calls to local users, but they received less attention because the broadband penetration rate was too low when they were introduced, and only calls between subscribers of the same network was free.

With broadband connections having been extended to more than 54 percent of local households, this type of service is poised to make a comeback.

Major players in this market include Seednet's (數位聯合) "Wagaly Talk," Asia Pacific Online Services Inc's (亞太線上) "iCall," SaveCom International Inc's (宏遠電訊) "FreeCall" and Mackay Telecommunications Inc's (瑪凱電信) "ipbb," which have all enjoyed significant growth amid all the current hype about Internet telephony.

Unlike Skype and TELTEL, which require that users make calls from their computers, these ISPs make use of a session-initiation protocol (SIP) by means of a device that can initiate calls to either fixed lines or broadband Internet services.

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