U.S. carrier raises its VoIP in Canada

AT&T Corp. said it plans to roll out enhanced voice-over-IP (VoIP) services for businesses worldwide in 2004, which could be a boon for some Canadian enterprises, and the bane of Canadian carriers, according to industry observers.

The Bedminster, N.J. telco on Dec. 11 announced “a full complement” of VoIP services for business customers around the globe, saying the new offerings would be available sometime next year. AT&T did not provide details, however its spokesperson, Gary Morgenstern, said the firm would tell more in upcoming announcements.

Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., said AT&T’s IP manoeuvrings could represent “a positive option” for some Canadian enterprises, explaining that it spells competition for Canadian carriers, which is good news for businesses comparing IP voice service platforms and prices.

But AT&T’s as-yet unspecified product might not speak to every Canadian company, Fox said.

“It’s going to affect the Canadian divisions of multinationals. Most of their decisions are made in the U.S.” Homegrown enterprises, on the other hand, would have little incentive to source voice services from a U.S.-based provider, she said.

Brownlee Thomas, a Montreal-based telecom analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said AT&T’s move “puts competitive pressure on [Canadian] service providers to be more assertive” with their VoIP offerings.

But, she added, AT&T’s service might also put the U.S. carrier in an awkward position with regulators. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) might decide that this new IP voice service deserves regulatory scrutiny, which could mean that AT&T has to file tariffs and pay contribution charges.

Thomas also pointed out that the Commission has been saying that IP telephony, although based on data network technology, is a voice service and should be regulated as such.

Morgenstern from AT&T said Canuck companies would source this VoIP offering through AT&T Global Services Canada. A spokesperson for that company said AT&T has not decided on scheduled availability for the product in Canada as yet.

Fox and Thomas both said Allstream Inc., formerly known as AT&T Canada, maintains strong ties with AT&T; AT&T’s VoIP service might also be available through Allstream, thanks to that relationship.

Burnaby, B.C.-based carrier Telus Corp. recently unveiled a hosted IP voice-data service for the enterprise called “IP-One.” Industry observers say it won’t be long before Bell Canada comes out with a similar product.

VoIP technology sends voice transmissions across data communication infrastructure — dedicated wide-area networks such as AT&T’s backbone, or the public Internet. It spells lower toll costs for enterprises, and it supports unified messaging functions at employees’ desktops.

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