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Last Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 15:03 GMT
VOIP is going into business
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) has threatened to topple the telegraph poles of the leading telecoms companies. First the obsession of geeks who wanted to talk to each other, internet telephony is being repackaged to appeal to business.

Talk is cheap - something Skype recently learnt to its cost when the red-faced parent company eBay admitted it had paid $1.4bn too much for the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) provider several years ago.

Paying $4bn for the company seemed silly even by e-commerce standards.

Video conferencing on a pc screen
VOIP enables internet based business communications

Skype is now trying to make good on its early promise.

Many of us are already familiar with some of the fun and games that come with VOIP, but now Skype has developed a business package which includes developer applications, tele-conferencing, and document sharing.

Skype is not the only company that sees a future in internet based business communications.

Cheap and clean

Microsoft has recently been banging its drum about work it is doing with a French company, the aim of which is to bring the fragrances of Provence to the rest of the world.

Occitane makes high-end soaps, fragrances, and lotions, all the stuff men give to women and send up smearing over themselves.

A screengrab from the Occitane website
Occitane's factory is based in the South of France

It is an international concern branching into new markets and so headquarters want a cheap and clean way to talk to the vanguard overseas and sell to new customers.

Microsoft Live Meeting sets them up with video conferencing including a table top camera which, it has to be said, is winning no beauty contests.

But what it lacks in looks it makes up for by turning your desk-top into a board meeting table.

"We are targeting more than 60 countries and we have to understand their needs. It is very easy in one click to know if our contact is available, to call him, and to do a conference through the webcam, so it is a very lively system (the system is in real time) and it helps us to save a lot of time," says Laure Pierrisnard, Senior Marketing Manager, Occitane.

This technology is improving the way people communicate in their business
Etienne de Verdelhan, CIO, Occitane

There is something nice about being able to see how people are reacting to what you say (well not if they are dozing off) and the system gives everyone one-to-one video calls.

There is something else that is pretty useful. You can share documents and work on them online at the same time, which is better than ping-ponging email attachments back and forth.

Microsoft's Unified Communications are pretty smart: they include phones that tell you whether and when a person you are calling will be sitting at their desk, when your next appointment is, and can even read out your emails.

"This technology is improving the way people communicate in their business and it makes it very efficient and quick to organise a meeting and start working with each other from far away," says Etienne de Verdelhan, CIO, Occitane.

It just happens that Occitane's factory is in the South of France. It could, one imagines, just as easily be in China, which is why internal business communications have to be pretty seamless these days.

Another good thing about VOIP is that it tends to be less expensive.

Talk is cheap, but good companies thrive on it.

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