America Online has announced a consumer VoIP application, Wanadoo joins the party. The AOL offering will go head-to-head with traditional telephone companies, cable firms and a multitude of start-ups competing for the mainstream-bound VoIP market.
AOL CEO Jonathan Miller announced the decision at VON Spring 2005 trade show, “Within the next month, AOL will launch an Internet phone product, and we believe it will be a truly differentiated product. The initial launch targets specific markets and AOL users.”
Miller added, “Consumers just want something that is reliable and easy to use. Over 60 percent of consumers don’t know what VoIP is or don’t understand what it is, but it is possible they could be sold on it.”
“AOL aims to closely integrate the VoIP service with AOL’s popular email and IM service to create a sort of “communications dashboard. “It will become the centrepiece of the way consumers handle their communications online”, beamed Miller.
The company’s customers will continue to use their traditional phones, but will plug them into adapters connected to their broadband source rather than the socket provided by the telephone company.
The AOL product will also allow customers to turn IM sessions into phone calls when one of the parties enters the phrase “Can I Call?”
At this point the AOL product will “almost instantaneously” switch the communications session to a VOIP call if the user on the other end is “present.”
To provide the VoIP service, AOL are teaming up with Level 3 Communications who will provide the infrastructure needed to comply with federal 911 and number portability requirements and Sonus Networks who will be responsible for the softswitching.
The company is yet to divulge pricing details for its US service or timetable roll outs in international markets.
Meanwhile, the stampede for ISPs to reinvent themselves as telcos continues with the French Telecom-owned Wanadoo announcing a new voice over broadband service last week.
For £4 a month, Wanadoo’s broadband customers can get a slice of the free phone call action to other UK landlines during evenings and weekends.
The ISP maintains that the cost of other calls made using its “Wanadoo Wireless and Talk” service are cheaper than BT, while calls to other “Wanadoo Wireless and Talk” punters will cost customers jack diddly squat.
The new service uses Wanadoo’s “Livebox” wireless box to route calls over broadband. Wanadoo’s broadband telephony service is designed as a secondary phone line service for now, but the ISP is hatching cunning plans for it to replace a household’s primary phone line.
Wanadoo UK’s chief exec, Eric Abensur, was on hand to give it the big one, boasting that his company was at the “cutting edge of this fantastic technology”.
He went on to say, “As broadband becomes a standard feature in UK homes – like turning on a tap it will become second nature to use it for all types of services – such as plugging a phone or two into your home network or watching TV, and we look forward to making further exciting announcements over the coming months.”
Wanadoo’s VoIP service launched in France last year, but was riddled with so many bugs that almost 300 Wanadoo staff in France went on strike before Christmas in protest at having to deal with extra-stroppy customers complaining that the service didn’t work.
However, a spokeswoman for Wanadoo UK said that call centre staff in the UK had been fully trained to support the product. “We’d only launch a product that we have confidence in,” she said.