Telus, Microsoft launch Internet phone service

Telus Corp. and Microsoft Canada announced last month that they are joining forces to enable Canadians to make voice phone calls from any Windows XP-enabled PC.

At a Vancouver press conference, officials from the two companies explained that the new offering, called Telus Voice Over Internet Service, will be included as part of the Windows Messenger service in Windows XP. At press time, the new Microsoft operating system was set to launch Oct. 25.

With XP – which features new compression and anti-echo technology to clean up voice over IP’s notoriously tinny sound – Microsoft will provide the enabling client system. Telus, in turn, will provide the IP network over which the data moves, the Web-based provisioning of the PC phone service, and customer services such as billing and account management.

The rates, according to Mirabelle, will be comparable to current landline rates for long distance, and cellular rates for local calls. Additionally, the system will work with any Internet connection, from dialup to cable to DSL.

This new service is targeted at mass-market consumers and smaller business that have relatively unsophisticated communications needs, said Paul Mirabelle, the Vancouver-based executive vice-president of Telus Business Transformation. It is also designed for the everyday computer user, not just technophiles, he said.

“You register with MSN and Telus online, then, after registering, there’s a pop-up dialler which shows up on your screen and you simply input the number you’re calling, hit ‘connect’ and the call goes through. Then you use the built-in microphone and speaker in your PC to communicate – it’s as simple as that,” Mirabelle said.

This service is not about throwing away household telephones, said Barbara Alexander, Microsoft Canada’s director for the B.C. region. Instead, it forms part of Windows XP’s .Net user experience of making every e-communications feature as handy as possible.

“Whether you’re using Excel, or Word, or you’re on the Internet, the [voice over Internet service] is just a convenience factor. Without having to leave my computer I can do my dialing and speak to the person, share files over the Internet, or do videoconferencing. It’s really ease of use, and a single user interface to do everything you need,” Alexander said.

Brownlee Thomas, a Montreal-based senior industry analyst with Giga Information Group, wondered just what the market is for the service, especially since it already exists for free in some forms.

“I think the play is going to be really consumer-oriented, for those people who are willing to put up with a little bit of inconvenience so that they can talk to whomever in whatever way they want to. I don’t see it replacing you local telephone anytime soon,” she said.

Noting that few people seem to be clamouring to run to their computers to make a phone call, Elroy Jopling, principal analyst for public service worldwide with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said the announcement definitely feels like the first act of a larger play.

“Voice over IP has been done by various people: Orbit Canada does it right now from a regular phone to a regular phone. With this (new offering), users are very much limited to using their PCs. But at the same time, obviously, that’s not where [Microsoft and Telus] are going in the long run. I think this is the first stage; they’ll see how this works, iron out any technological glitches and move on to something that may generate a lot more money,” Jopling said.