BT has today launched a new Voice over Internet service, which is based around a special version of Yahoo! Messenger. The full BT Press Release can be found here.
The BT Communicator service as it is known, brings together many functions covering phone calls, webcam, emails, texts and instant messaging. There is the promise of multi-way video calls in 2005. The software itself is a 6.25MB download from the BT Communicator website, though once downloaded a fairly lengthy registration process is required.
Voice over Internet calls normally raise expectations of cheap calls, but alas this BT package is tied to whatever BT Together package your phoneline is signed up for. This means calls cost exactly the same as if made over your normal phone. Though the service is not tied to a specific broadband line, meaning you can use the service in any country with a fast enough Internet connection, this means you can call people in the UK when you are abroad for the same price as if in the UK.
We would have had this news online much earlier, but the sign-up process for the service proved to be a bit lengthy, and for sometime was not working at all. Signing up involves creating a BT username, 3 pages of questions, your home phone number and BT account number, finishing finally with a verification process which involves phoning a 0800 number to supply a security code. In theory within 30 minutes of finishing this you should be able to use the service. Given the cost of the calls, the process is somewhat complicated, and in fact signing up to a CPS provider for calls is much simpler.
The press release makes much of the mass market appeal of the product, but one wonders if the mass market is actually up to configuring the various software firewalls that people run when using a USB or PCI modem to let the BT Communicator service work. Users with an ADSL modem/router may find it works straight out of the box, BTs list of compatible kit is fairly short. The BT Voyager 200/2000 models have this via a firmware upgrade, and the BT 1250 router also has an upgrade available to support SIP. The Speed Touch 510/530 routers have SIP support built in, it just needs to be turned on. Details on how to configure your home network hardware are available here. We have had the service work on a Netgear DG834G with no configuration at all.
Voice Over Internet calls have great potential, this BT product essentially allows you to make two phone call over a standard BT line, without the rental of a second line. The biggest stumbling block is ease of setup, and compatibility with a range of existing hardware. ADSLGuide will hopefully be able to look at a number of the UK VoIP services in the near future, and give people some idea of the quality of calls, and how simple or not things are to set up.
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