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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Net calling kits hit High Streets
Close-up of a telephone
Making calls over net technology is changing the face of phones
Technology to make voice calls over broadband has hit UK High Streets with the launch of Freetalk in Dixons, Currys, The Link and PC World.

It lets people make calls over the net using a phone handset and without switching on a computer.

Starter kits are sold with a monthly subscription. Users will be able to make free UK landline calls and cheaper international and mobile calls.

Led by software firm Skype, net calling is transforming the phone industry.

Simon Turner, managing director of DSG International, which owns PC World, Currys, The Link and Dixons, said Freetalk was a "wake-up call" for traditional telecoms companies.

"The days of old-style fixed-line phone calls are numbered," he said. DSG expects about half a million users to sign up for the new service within a year.

Web-phoning technology, known as voice-over IP (Voip) , converts phone conversations into packets of data to be transmitted down the same wires used to browse the net.


According to the International Data Group, up to 11% of UK broadband users will have a Voip service by 2007.

Voip services are available as free software that lets you make calls from a computer, such as Skype, Google Talk, or BT Communicator.

Adaptors and hardware routers, such as that offered by FreeTalk, are also available which connect directly into the broadband connection, bypassing the need for a computer.

More competition

The Voip market is starting to explode with telcos, net service providers, and software companies offering a variety of services.

Skype is the most successful of the free software programs available that lets computer users make calls over the net to other computers for free, or to mobiles and landlines for cheaper rates, via paid-for credits.

It has about 55 million subscribers worldwide and launched in 2003. It has been so successful in such a short period of time that it was bought by online auction house, eBay, earlier this month for a massive $2.6bn (1.4bn).

The High Street's Freetalk service is similar to others, such as Vonage which sells kits in stationers Staples and Maplin.

These services use special adaptors for phones and so only requires a broadband connection. Users do not have to have a computer.

Like other net phone call systems, the services lets people choose their own area code wherever they live in the UK.

Vonage's broadband router

The kit also keeps its phone number, even if it is plugged into another broadband connection in the UK or abroad. This means people can use their home phone number abroad while avoiding roaming charges.

Freetalk's start up kit costs 79.99 and subscribers pay a 6.99 a month for unlimited free calls to all UK landlines. Charges for calls to mobiles and international numbers using the service.

Net service provider, PlusNet, also announced the launch of its own Voip service called PlusTalk.

It warned that people who take up free net calling services could face call quality issues and spam, nicknamed Spit (spam over IP telephony) attacks unless there was some control over the network.

It stressed that net service providers were best placed to offer net phone services because they had more control over potential network, spam and bandwidth issues that could affect the quality of service.

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