Level 3 to phase out (3)Tone VoIP service

Level 3 Communications plans to phase out (3)Tone, a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service it provided to small and medium-sized businesses through channel partners, a company spokesman said Monday.

The service, designed as an IP network-based alternative to PBXes (private branch exchange) and Centrex services, will be phased out over time, said company spokesman Arthur Hodges. The Broomfield, Colorado, company will support (3)Tone through June and is developing a transition assistance plan for its approximately 100 channel partners and their customers, he said.

The move comes amid a fast-growing, rapidly evolving market for VoIP services, which use IP packet networks to carry voice calls, generally at much lower cost and potentially with more advanced features than in traditional phone services,

Level 3, which operates an international IP backbone, introduced the service in September 2003 after acquiring startup Telverse Communications, which had started it.

The service doesn't offer channel partners the flexibility they need, Hodges explained.

"It's a highly integrated service where our partners have not had an ability to plug into it at any level and do their own development," Hodges said. Level 3 has had much more success with its consumer VoIP service, (3)VoIP Enhanced Local, a wholesale offering that carriers and cable operators can enhance with their own features and bundle with other services in a modular fashion, he added.

"Our strategic view of the market has evolved over the past year or so. ... We believe that open development platform is better for Level 3," Hodges said.

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