AT&T rolled out its do-it-yourself voice-over-IP service on Monday, allowing customers to add a VOIP phone to an existing broadband connection. The service includes a quasi-"presence" feature that will route calls to the appropriate phone.
Initially, the CallVantage service will only provide residents of New Jersey local phone numbers to call other areas of the country. However, AT&T will also provide local numbers to 100 other U.S, markets later this year, Ray Solnik, strategic markets vice president in the AT&T Consumer Marketing and Sales Group, said in an interview.

Users will be able to use and access the service from anywhere in the country, Solnik explained. However, the number assigned to them will initially include a New Jersey area code.

AT&T's solution allows a user to plug in an adapter into the Internet connection provided by DSL or a cable modem, allowing him to make calls to any phone, including traditional circuit-switched phones, other VOIP phones, and cell phones. The adapter can also be unplugged and moved from place to place, allowing mobile VOIP connections from locations which also have wired broadband access.

VOIP works by routing voice in across the packet-based IP network used by the Internet. The technology allows users to tap into the Internet for voice calls, in what can be a cheaper solution than a traditional phone. However, the technology requires a broadband connection; in most cases, DSL companies have refused to offer "naked DSL" and required subscribers to also sign up for voice service.

"A customer can go from three and a half minutes from the call to a dial tone," Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T's global networking services division, in a keynote address to the Voice On The Network show here.

Initially, the service will only cost $19.99 per month for the first six months, then increase to its normal rate of $39.99 per month for unlimited domestic calling, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. AT&T will also offer discounted international rates, the company said.

AT&T said the company plans to offer a number of features, including the ability to ring a series of phones in succession or all at the same time. The feature sidesteps the problem of "presence", the as-yet unrealized vision of a network "knowing" where a user is and ringing the phone closest to his location.

Other features of the new CallVantage service will include IP-based voice mail that can be accessed from a web page, as well as a do-not-disturb option and videoconferencing abilities that can network up to nine callers.

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