Net2Phone Gets You Yapping Online

SAN FRANCISCO (06/01/2000) - Net2Phone Inc. wants to remove the geek barrier from PC-to-telephone calls over the Internet. The hassles of fumbling with microphones and speakers may disappear with the release in June of two new devices that route calls on Net2Phone's voice-over-Internet Protocol network.

They are a Universal Serial Bus phone-like handset called a Yap Phone and the Yap Jack, a cross between a modem and a sound card that lets you make calls without needing a PC.

The two are part of a new line of Net2Phone hardware called Yap (Your Alternative Phone) Internet telephony products. I found both devices easy to set up and use, barring a couple of software hiccups.

Yap Gear Debut

Both Yap devices are subject to the Internet's fickle nature, which makes Net-based phone calls sound great at times and barely audible at others. The Yap Jack supports echo cancellation and full-duplex voice, says Net2Phone.

The $60 Yap Phone comes with a prepaid Net2Phone calling card good for 1000 minutes of chat time in the United States. After that, calls cost 1 cent per minute, billed to your prepaid Net2Phone account. International fees start at 3.9 cents per minute. PC-to-PC calls are free.

The $160 Yap Jack comes with $10 worth of pre-paid minutes. Yap Jack-to-Yap Jack phone calls are free; domestic calls cost 2.9 cents per minute; and international calls cost the same as Yap Phone calls.

Plug in and Go

The Yap Jack fits between your phone and wall jack: You plug your phone into the Yap Jack, which in turn plugs into your phone jack. You need to configure it to work with an Internet service provider that supports point-to-point protocol, which eliminates America Online Inc.

Then, just dial a number and then hang up the receiver. Yap Jack dials your ISP and Net2Phone places the call over its network. Once the call is routed, your phone rings; you pick it up and wait for the person you called to answer. The whole process at first seems awkward and can take a few minutes, leaving you wondering what is going on.

Yap Jack voice quality was superior to both the Yap Phone and other VoIP offerings such as Inc.'s DialPad.

Yap Phone Fun

The Yap Phone works with a version of the Net2Phone 10.0 software. I installed the software and plugged in the USB handset. But after I "dialed" the phone, I got an error message: "Not configured to call through Yap Phone." It did work, but a Net2Phone techie had to help configure my PC's sound card to activate everything. I had to reselect my PC's sound card as the default sound device.

Also, I had to change the Yap Phone settings to be the client's "preferred Net2Phone device."

One gripe: Even though you pay $60 for the phone, the software displays a steady stream of ads when you're chatting. Net2Phone says ads subsidize use of the Net2Phone network.

Sound quality ranged from excellent to adequate to abysmal, with a very noticeable delay. Such is the state-of-the-art of voice telephony over the public Internet. But I'm a believer. As networks become more robust and voice telephony technology improves, quality is sure to follow.

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