VoIP Calling Goes Mainstream at CES Event

Thursday, January 5th 2006, 9:46 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Broadband gear maker NetGear Inc. is introducing a cordless phone to dial Skype Internet calls over any Wi-Fi connection without a personal computer, joining a parade of new products at the International Consumer Electronics Show bringing online telephony to the mainstream.

Other announcements at CES involving VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, included new phones from two major names in consumer electronics, Panasonic Communications Co. and Philips Electronics NV.

Both companies said they are introducing cordless phones integrated with Skype, the popular provider of free and low-cost calls recently acquired by eBay Inc. for $2.6 billion.

In addition, Panasonic said it is introducing a cordless system for VoIP phone service from Vonage Holdings Corp., while Philips unveiled an alliance with Microsoft Corp. to introduce VoIP products.

None of the products are available yet, and no prices were disclosed.

The NetGear WiFi phone will be compatible with public hotspots such as those available at coffee houses in addition to wireless routers in the home or office. The phone displays contacts, indicating who's available for a call and enables calls to non-Skype numbers using the paid version of the service.

While a growing number of cordless handsets and desktop phones are integrated with Skype software, those devices generally plug into a PC or a special adapter that's connected to a broadband modem.

The VoIP-enabled phones from Panasonic and Philips are the first Internet calling products targeting the consumer market from those companies.

The move into consumer VoIP by the two leading names in home electronics and entertainment offers another sign of how the technology has begin to shake its image as cutting-edge or unproven.

By now, millions of U.S. consumers have switched to VoIP through their cable TV providers. Most, however, may not realize they're using VoIP since cable companies tend not to mention or stress the technology, worried they'll scare off prospective subscribers.

The Skype-enabled phone from Panasonic, a subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. of Japan, can simultaneously function as a regular phone. The VoIP123 cordless phone from Netherlands-based Philips also features dual functionality so users can make Skype calls in addition to ordinary landline calls.

NetGear said it will announce availability and pricing by the end of March. Panasonic hopes to deliver the Skype-integrated phone by mid-year, but offered no timetable for the Vonage-enabled device. Philips plans to launch the VoIP321 in Europe in May 2006 and in the U.S. in July 2006.