Telstra has revealed a few of the lessons it has learnt during trials of voice over IP (VOIP) services over the past year.
Speaking at the Telecoms@Internet conference last week Kelly-Anne Green, product manager, VOIP, Telstra, highlighted a key challenge for the carrier was education of customers about how to use, and what to expect of, VOIP-based services.
Green said that Telstra had run two "plain old Internet telephony" trials, as well as VOIP value-added application trials.
The first Internet telephony trial was run jointly with three other Asia/Pacific telcos -- Hong Kong Telecom, Singapore Telecom and Dacom. Staff of the carriers tested Internet technology between themselves successfully.
"This was mainly to get our hands dirty with the technology and just test out how it actually worked in practice," Green said.
The second Internet telephony trial was a retail service for Telstra customers and ran for six months between Australia and the UK.
According to Green, the trial proved that customers expect VOIP services to be very cheap.
One problem encountered during this trial was a wide variation in the quality of connections, Green said.
Value-added application trials included a three-month 'click-to-call' service trial in which customers could register once to be able to click on icons on enabled Web pages, and be put through to call centres.
"The call could be from the user's ordinary fixed or mobile phone, or using an Internet telephony software product," Green said.
The trial highlighted the importance of educating end users about new services, she said.
"The challenge is to provide a service that is easy to understand and manageable for the user," said Green, explaining that tasks such as downloading software could prove challenging for users.
"The systems and processes that you need to support the product are going to be very different form the ones that support any current product."
However, Green said providing support for Internet-based services was extremely cost effective, "precisely because you know that users have Internet access" and sales, distribution, and support can all be done online.
"The challenge for us is to pick services that will succeed commercially," she said, "[And that] often turns on surprisingly small functionality and useability issues."