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Facilitating Long-Distance Phone Calls on Net

Technology: Intel introduces software that will allow users of different types of computers to talk with each other.

July 23, 1996|From Reuters

In its quest to make the personal computer an indispensable tool, Intel Corp. on Monday unveiled software that will make it easy to place long-distance phone calls over the Internet.

The Intel Internet Phone software is the first to allow users of different types of computers and software to link up, solving a problem that has held back use of the global computer network for long-distance telephone calls, even though it would save long-distance toll charges.

Intel's software uses a telecommunications standard that allows users of different computers and telephone software to talk to each other. Until now, people using the Internet for phone calls had to have identical software and hardware.

The software works on PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 operating system. Intel also has signed up 120 companies who have agreed to use the standard in new products.

"The Internet today is primarily a broadcast medium. We think that, in addition to person-to-person communications, this will make the Net a much more interesting network and create new uses and activities for PC users," said Intel's Tim Dowling, marketing manager in its Internet Communications Group in San Francisco.

Intel's stock lost 50 cents to $72.25 on Nasdaq.

Jeff Pulver, author of the soon-to-be-published Internet Telephone Toolkit and chairman of the Voice on Internet Coalition, said Intel's announcement is a breakthrough because the software is based on open standards, not proprietary software, and could spur growing use of the Internet for telephone calls.

"It's not that Intel is coming forward with a new product, but that Intel and Microsoft recognized the need for standards and have done something about it," Pulver said. "Intel is the first company to actually deliver on a standard."

To ensure its success, Intel is offering the software free starting Wednesday on its Web site:

Pulver said use of the Internet as a phone service began when VocalTec Ltd. introduced a product in 1995.

But, Pulver said, "now there are about 20 companies out there competing on standards," which has prevented use of the Internet for telephone calls from taking off because callers have to agree in advance on what software to use.

He said about 1 million people, "mostly hobbyists," now use the Internet for long-distance calling.

The most viable competitor is Netscape Communications Corp., which is incorporating a voice telephone feature in its Navigator 3 Internet browser.

Still, Pulver doesn't see a wholesale change in society's use of telephones.

"I don't think we'll see a day when everybody is sitting at their PCs and using the Internet instead of the telephone. It will be popular in certain communities," he said, citing Internet chat sessions enthusiasts, frequent users of voice mail and heavy fax users.

The attraction of the Internet for long-distance calls is that it eliminates long-distance charges. A user pays only for the local connection to the network.

While this would seem likely to dent the revenues of long-distance carriers, analysts and the carriers say they get revenues for those calls anyway, but from the Internet service provider instead of the consumer.

Long-distance carriers MCI Communications Corp., AT&T Corp. and Sprint Corp. provide the backbone networks of the Internet.

"We believe voice telephones on the Internet represents a major opportunity for AT&T," AT&T spokesman Mike Miller said, adding that his company is exploring the area as a business itself.

"One of the key factors of whether we go into it or not is customer demand. If we do go in this area, we will do so in a position of leadership."

Intel's Internet Phone software incorporates Microsoft's "User Location Service" technology, which enables users to locate other Internet phone users through existing Internet directory services.

The software will also enable multimedia PC users to talk with each other over the Internet while using other Internet applications, such as browsing the World Wide Web, exchanging photos, playing games or data conferencing.

Microsoft plans to introduce its version of Internet phone software, called NetMeeting, in September.

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