Routing on the go

In this age of globalization, your company may someday say you’re being temporarily transferred to launch a new office in, say, Iceland.

If so – or if your company is expanding globally without physically sending you anywhere – you may profit from the experience I’ve just had.

For the past 10 months, I’ve written my Window Manager columns while living in Germany instead of the United States. I had to relocate somewhat unexpectedly last year when my wife, Margie, suddenly found she’d received a Fulbright Scholarship that she’d earlier heard she hadn’t. (See

She was ecstatic, but I faced the problem of writing books and columns and supervising my two paid researchers while thousands of miles away from my usual English-speaking haunts.

No matter how much I rely upon the Internet and e-mail, some of my best tips arise when I ask a source to call me on the phone. But many Americans are leery of dialling foreign numbers, due to cost or unfamiliarity. My salvation during my sojourn, therefore, was the ability to give out a U.S. phone number.

I made this possible using voice over IP (VoIP). I took to Berlin my menagerie of desktops and laptops running Windows 2000 and Me (and XP for testing purposes). Then I networked all this to a DSL line via a Linksys EtherFast router, which includes a port for an analogue phone.

This port is serviced by long-distance provider Net2Phone Inc. I was assigned a phone number in a Manhattan area code. Once I’d configured things, any calls to that number rang on the phone attached to the router in Berlin. I could have taken the router anyplace in the world with broadband service and my calls would have rung there, too.

That’s fine for a single user, but what about your expanding corporation? Net2Phone Vice President Sarah Hofstetter says her hottest prospects are companies that want inexpensive voice communications between the United States and other countries. To connect a corporate PBX voice system to broadband, Net2Phone’s new Max T1/E1 devices can be daisy-chained to support almost any number of callers. Cisco and Nortel also sell high-end VoIP hardware, but not telecom service, as does Net2Phone.

A firm that wants to provide customer service in Spanish, for example, may set up a call centre in Mexico. Calls to a toll-free number in the United States are routed to Mexico over Net2Phone’s private IP network, which I found had excellent voice quality.

Vast markets in India, Brazil, and elsewhere are opening up their long-distance lines to competition. Whatever you think of globalization, it’s a fact that your bandwidth is increasingly the cheapest way to call.

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