VON spreads wings, embraces IP video

The Voice on the Network conference celebrated its 10th anniversary in Boston this week, with founder Jeff Pulver noting that the first show attracted 224 attendees while this one was expected to draw more than 10,000.

Instead of looking back at VOIP milestones, however, Pulver used his opening keynote to highlight developments in IP-based video, saying he believes it is the next big thing. His hope is to see the show help cross-pollinate ideas among the traditional VON crowd and newcomers pursuing the development of Internet-based entertainment.

The new technology will be so disruptive that the entrenched players will push for its regulation, Pulver said. But he predicts opportunities will abound. "Who starts the Vonage of TV?" he asked. "And if movies start to premier on the Internet, who's going to sell the popcorn?"

To bolster Pulver's point about the potential, the next speaker was Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of AOL, who said the company already has 45 channels on its video portal. That lineup includes In2TV, which viewers can use to watch old TV programs; in October the company plans to launch something it calls Uncut Video for shorts ... la YouTube.

Many other speakers at the show focused on IP-based video, but one speaker from the traditional VOIP crowd was Jeffrey Citron, chairman and chief strategist at Vonage. He reveled in the fact that in the four years since the company launched its VOIP service, everyone has been predicting the company's failure - while on Labor Day it hit the 2 million subscriber mark.

Regional CATV and other players will lead in the local VOIP market, he said, but Vonage is 10 times the size of its nearest national competition.

Start-up Truphone can only hope for such a meteoric rise. The company was at VON to take the wraps off its VOIP service for cell phone users.

Technical Director Alistair Campbell said the Session Initiation Protocol-based service, which is still in beta, lets users with dual-mode cell phones (Nokia, for now) route calls over Wi-Fi links to the Internet. Once connected, calls can be routed over the Internet and connected free to other Wi-Fi-linked Truphone users, or connected at low cost to other cell phones or traditional land lines.

A call from a cell phone to a landline in England, where the company is based, costs 2.7 cents per minute, for example, while a cell call to a cell phone user in England would be 20 cents per minute. As a promotion, the company is offering free calling to landlines until Dec. 31.

There is still opportunity for innovation, it would seem, in the VOIP arena.

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