BellSouth To Ramp Up VoIP Services For Business Customers

In an announcement this week, BellSouth makes a major VoIP pitch to small and medium-sized business customers, promising "an easy migration path to voice over Internet protocol."

BellSouth said VoIP would be part of "packaged solutions" that will include network transport and professional services. Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks will provide the equipment, the company said.

"BellSouth has added packaged IP telephony solutions to create a more robust and innovative portfolio of voice options," Dick Anderson, BellSouth president of customer markets, said in a statement.

Several existing business solution packages with various paths taking advantage of and leading to VoIP will be available to business customers, BellSouth said. Some network-based VoIP services that are softswitch-enabled will be introduced next year, the company said.

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The Cisco and Nortel gear will provide "pre-configured voice platforms that provide customers with maximum flexibility for both traditional PBX- and Key System-based and IP-based telephony as their business needs evolve," the BellSouth statement said. The business solutions are aimed at companies with as few as 12 employees to large firms with hundreds of users at many locations.

Of note, the announcement came just a day after reports that merger discussions between BellSouth and A&T had collapsed and a week after the Georgia Public Service Commission had ordered the firm to offer DSL service without also requiring customers to pay for a separate telephone line. VoIP providers led by Vonage Holdings hailed the PSC ruling because it means consumers can get VoIP service without being required to pay for a separate phone line.

At least one independent VoIP provider had a positive reaction to the large telecom firm getting serious about VoIP.

"A company like BellSouth helps legitimize the business," says Rick Scherle, senior vice president of marketing for independent VoIP provider i2 Telecom Inc. "You would think the telephone companies would be on the side of regulation, but that's not always so. They recognize there will be tremendous growth, someone's going to make money over IP packets." Scherle said,

Most of the major telecom companies have entered the VoIP market piecemeal. AT&T led a major foray into the field in 1999 with a $1.5 billion investment for VoIP provider Net2Phone. So far, the endeavor has been slow to gain traction and has been a drain on the financial resources of both companies. BellSouth had been in on-again off-again acquisition discussions with AT&T for three years -- with BellSouth as the potential acquirer.

There has been growing penetration in consumer and business accounts by independent VoIP providers in the BellSouth territory, which in addition to its stronghold in Southeastern U. S. also covers some 45 million customers in 15 countries.

This story courtesy of TechWeb .