Another First for VoIP: Retail Stores

"We're the first company to go retail," said Rick Scherle, i2's vice president of marketing. "Both the VoIP product and the service are entirely new so we're going to have to grow the space."

In the demonstration, visitors to the Staples locations can use the InternetTalker to call anywhere in the world. They can also purchase an InternetTalker and sign up for service. Previously, most VoIP marketing has been to large and medium-sized businesses.

Also in recent days, Skyper Ltd. released its beta test software designed to enhance its VoIP service with improved sound, USB support, and capability for users to send contact information to one another. The Skyper service, developed by a Stockholm company, is free with 1.1 million users having downloaded its software to date.

Meanwhile, the Internet telephone industry is awaiting the written decision due out Friday from a Minnesota federal judge who ruled that the VoIP industry should be free from traditional telephone regulation. The ruling -- while not the final word on the issue -- is an important step in the direction of keeping Internet phoning deregulated. In effect, the judge said VoIP was a data service and, thus, not subject to public regulatory oversight.

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Specifically, the Minnesota decision was a victory for Vonage Holdings Corp., the VoIP startup that was being pursued by the Minnesota Public Utility Commission to pay license fees as a regulated phone service.

While i2, Skyper, and Vonage are all nimble start-ups, companies were moving quickly this week to step up their presence in the VoIP business. The largest cable-tv operator, Comcast, announced it will begin VoIP market testing in three new markets in addition to its on-going Web telephone trial in the Philadelphia area. Time Warner Cable is planning to introduce telephone Web service in three new areas in the wake of what it regards as the success of its pioneering VoIP residential service in Portland, Maine.

But it was the introduction of i2's retail unveiling in the Staples stores in New York and Pennsylvania that caught many by surprise. The business has been dominated by sales of big systems to big users or to sophisticated geeks.

The Boca Raton, Fla, company is selling its Internet Talker handset for $99.99 with its most inexpensive monthly plan priced at $9.99.

"It's good for awareness," Scherle said. "Most people are just tire kicking now."

This story courtesy of TechWeb .