Vonage Calls on Linksys for VoIP

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Cisco Systems' Linksys division is set to enter the consumer VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) space this week through a deal with Vonage Holdings to provide customer equipment for that company's Internet-based telephone service.

The partnership will kick off with Linksys providing broadband-to-phone adapters and wired routers that incorporate that adapter technology, but it soon will branch out with Wi-Fi equipment and could lead to wireless LAN phones, according to representatives of the two companies.

The deal is not exclusive. Also this week, Vonage announced a deal with Netgear to develop a voice-enabled Wi-Fi router followed by a wired VoIP adapter/router. Those products should ship in time for the holiday shopping season, maybe as early as October, the companies say in a statement.

Hardware Help

The enterprise VoIP business is built mostly around purpose-built IP phones, but most consumer VoIP services, including Vonage's, use an ATA (analog telephony adapter) that allows customers to keep using conventional fixed-line phones. The ATA, which sits between the phone and the router, effectively turns the regular phone into an IP phone.

The Vonage-Cisco deal actually brings the companies back together after Vonage dropped the San Jose, California-based router giant's earlier ATA 186 device for an uncharacteristic reason: It didn't include a router. Late last year, Vonage started providing customers with a Motorola ATA that was integrated with a router, says Jeffrey Citron, chairman and chief executive officer of Vonage.

Now Vonage will offer customers Linksys' PAP2 adapter, which is smaller in size, offers more functionality, and better quality than the ATA 186, and the RT31P2, a unit that integrates the ATA function with a router, Citron says.

The PAP2 has an estimated street price of $59; the router's estimated street price is $89. Both are available immediately in the U.S. and Canada and will be sold at retail locations including Best Buy, RadioShack, and Staples with a $40 mail-in rebate. Staples also will offer an additional $10 rebate. Customers who sign up for VoIP service through Vonage's Web site will pay an activation fee of $29.99 but will get either hardware device free. Vonage's service plans start at $14.99 per month for 500 minutes of calls within the U.S. and Canada.

Major Drive

The devices are the first fruits of a major drive into VoIP by Linksys, according to Mani Dhillon, senior manager of product marketing at Linksys. Since the Irvine, California-based home and small-business networking company was acquired by Cisco last year, it has brought in top engineers from Cisco including Luan Dang, a former Cisco director of engineering, to spearhead its VoIP efforts, Dhillon says. Dang was a co-founder of networking protocol company Vovida Networks, which Cisco acquired in 2000.

The PAP2 is an ATA with one Ethernet port for connection to a broadband router and a pair of phone ports for simultaneously using two phones for VoIP (or a phone and a fax). Those phones can have different phone numbers, Citron says.

The RT31P2 is a wired router with three Ethernet ports and two phone ports. It can support two phones and multiple PCs that all can share a single broadband connection, Dhillon says. Both devices use the IEEE 802.1p standard to prioritize voice packets, which are delay sensitive, and give them a higher quality of service than data packets. That mechanism doesn't give the voice calls priority over the wide-area network, he adds. Both also are compatible with Vonage's caller ID, call waiting, and voice mail features, Dhillon says.

Both companies are also looking toward VoIP over Wi-Fi. Linksys soon will introduce a Wi-Fi version of the router, also equipped with two phone ports, according to Dhillon. Vonage currently is looking for partners in building a Wi-Fi phone, according to Citron.

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