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The UK's fast-emerging Internet telephony industry has set up its own trade association to promote and represent the needs of the sector.

Thirteen UK companies have come together to form the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association (ITSPA) to lobby the UK Government and communications regulator, Ofcom, as well the European Commission and other regulators.

ITSPA is also keen to encourage the innovation and development of the Internet telephony industry through the promotion of self-regulation and competition.

Internet telephony lets users make voice calls over any Internet connection, particularly broadband, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). In many cases it can provide cheaper telephony compared to traditional services, with calls to other Internet phones often free of charge.

It's estimated that more than six million people worldwide currently make voice calls over their Internet connection, primarily in Japan and the USA. ITSPA reckons that the UK market is now poised to take-off in much the same way.

Said ITSPA spokesman Kim Thesiger: "Internet Telephony providers now offer a serious alternative to the existing telephone companies, and we need to look at the levels of regulation and encouragement that this industry needs.

"This technology will revolutionise the way in which consumers and businesses make voice calls over the next few years ushering in far cheaper prices for phone calls and offering a wealth of new products and services that were only available to the biggest corporations until now."

ITSPA is keen to recruit other companies in the sector although Mr Thesiger expressed doubts as to whether the UK's incumbent fixed line telco, BT, would be allowed to join the group. Last week BT announced details of its BT Communicator product that, once in place, will enable punters to make voice calls over the Internet.

The thirteen founder members of ITSPA are: Call UK; ET Phones; Gossiptel; Gradwell dot com; Idesk; Imass Telecom; Intervivo; Magrathea; Mistral Internet; Speak2World; Telappliant; Telco Global; and T-Strategy.

Industry analysts, Juniper Research, reckon VoIP is gong to be huge and predicts that it will generate $47bn a year by 2009 as flat-rate IP-based voice tariffs gradually replace traditional services. ®

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