New Zealand's three largest Internet service providers (ISPs) are weighing up the potential of new voice-over-IP technology from Ascend Communications, in whose access technology they have all already invested heavily, while the fourth is steaming ahead with its own solution.
Xtra is not commenting on Internet telephony plans at present, but Internet Group (Ihug) director Tim Wood says he is waiting to test the new Ascend Max voice gateway devices.
Clear Net general manager Deborah Menagh says that with Ascend and the other big players coming in to voice-over-IP "we can expect to see competition, so the quality should come up. That's what we're interested in -- the quality we can deliver."
Ascend boosted its voice offerings at last week's Networld+Interop show in the US by announcing it would offer ISPs the ability to let users take and make voice calls while connected to the Internet.
Ascend will offer a number of applications from a company called eFusion, including Internet call waiting which alerts Internet users to incoming calls and lets them answer or forward them without leaving the Internet session; and Push-to-Talk, which lets users click a button on a Web page to automatically initiate a voice call via their PCs. It can even synchronise browsers for helpdesk and sales applications.
Meanwhile, David Mackey, general manager of Voyager, says his company's Internet telephony service, which uses proprietary technology developed by its parent company OzEmail, is going "wonderfully well". Mackey says Voyager Phone has about 500 customers in the business sector and is clocking up "hundreds of thousands of call minutes a month".
Mackey says Voyager will soon begin to "very assertively promote" the service, and has already offered cut-rate calls within New Zealand to Australia, the US, UK and Japan, with South Korea, the Netherlands "and a lot of other countries" to follow soon.
He says Voyager Phone is based on the same standards Cisco has adopted. "The over-riding inference is that the proprietary technology will be transparently ported to a standard when that standard is ratified."
The new Ascend voice gateway devices include software for Unix or NT and digital signal processor (DSP) modules which slot into the popular Max hubs. New quality of service features incorporated in the Max products also play an important role.
Steve Harrington of Ascend distributor Asnet says his company has one of the voice modules working in the laboratory and will begin trials soon. He expects the voice products to be generally available around the end of June, but warns they will initially be expensive.
Harrington says that while the new software will appeal to ISPs, the key for telcos will be SS7 integration, which will allow connect directly into their class 5 switches. "We'll be able to integrate the Ascend platform as part of the PSTN network."
With Xtra there's an ongoing relationship regarding the capability of the Ascend product, including multimedia IP integration.