Level 3 Rounds Out Its Voice Over IP Line - InformationWeek

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Level 3 Rounds Out Its Voice Over IP Line

It debuted a toll-free service in the United States to go along with local and long-distance offerings.

Level 3 Communications Inc. on Tuesday launched a toll-free calling service across the United States, rounding out its local and long-distance voice over Internet Protocol offerings.

The (3)VoIP Toll Free service was unveiled a day after the company debuted a calling service for international markets. In September, Level 3 unveiled a local calling service for the United States called (3)VoIP Marketplace.

Level 3, which sells to carriers that can then offer VoIP and data services to customers, uses its Softswitch networking technology to convert voice signals to IP packets for distribution over the Internet. The packets are converted back as the call is moved to the public switched network.

"We now have a compelling combination of local and toll-free nationwide VoIP calling solutions that give customers the control they need to create new products and services," Sureel Choksi, executive VP of Softswitch Services for Level 3, said in a statement.

Level 3 was one of the first companies to build an IP telephony network and offer it to traditional carriers. Level 3 "has an advantage because their network is up and running and they can offer other carriers lower cost services," said Norm Bogen, an analyst for market researchers InStat/MDR.

Whether traditional carriers will eventually build out their own IP networks remains to be seen. "There are some carriers that may never build their own networks, because it's just not cost-effective, especially in the long-distance area," Bogen said. "For them to replicate that long-distance network would be very expensive."

Raindance Communications Inc., which sells Web-conferencing services, was the first announced customer for Level 3's toll-free service. Raindance said incorporating Level 3's VoIP platform into its products reduces customers' telephony costs by enabling them to dial a local number to gain access into any conference call, regardless of the user's location.

"We've spent the past year working side-by-side with Level 3 so that we can provide our customers a VoIP conferencing solution with quality that is indistinguishable from typical PSTN (public switched telephone network) conferencing," Todd Vernon, Raindance's chief technology officer, said in a separate announcement.

Raindance's VoIP conferencing platform is expected to be available this quarter.

IP telephony over controlled Internet backbones or a company's private network can provide quality that matches the public phone network's. But quality over the public Internet varies considerably.

Nevertheless, voice over IP has gained interest among businesses as an alternative to traditional telephone service, as the Internet becomes the universal transport for all voice, data, and video communications worldwide. Packet networks are less expensive and more scalable than traditional circuit-switched telephone networks, and naturally integrate with Internet-based applications.

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