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Internet calls to landlines could get even cheaper, following yesterday's launch of an international peering network of VoIP providers. Fourteen companies have signed up to the free-of-charge interconnection service including Callme.se (Sweden), e-fon.ch (Switzerland), Magrathea Telecommunications (Great Britain), Musimi.dk (Denmark), MS Networks (Luxembourg), sipgate (Austria, Germany, Great Britain) and SIPphone (USA).

The service is brokered by e164.info which has built a central database of VoIP telephone numbers. e164.info is brainchild of a small German company, netzquadrat, which was set up by the founders of German VoIP provider sipgate/nufone.

So far, 100 million phone numbers have been registered in the database from 160,000 different dialing prefixes in eight countries. Talks with more VoIP providers are under way, Thilo Salmon, founder of e164.info, said.

Member companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that ensures the non-profit character of the venture and which makes clear that the members disclose bilateral agreements about how the want to charge for the interconnection.

"Some members have announced that they will interconnect with every provider without charge," Salmon said.

How much customers benefit from the better peering arrangement also depends on each provider in the network. According to Michael Robertson, SIPphone CEO, the system will simplify interconnection between VoIP providers around the globe and that it will hasten the advent of free calls, the inevitable result of VoIP, he says.

The netzquadrat solution is based on Carrier ENUM. ENUM stores routing information to a number in the DNS in form of a domain address. But while the original ENUM concept, currently tested by the Domain Name Registries in many European countries, want the end user to have control over his registering his phone number with the central database, the Carrier version just uses ENUM for routing information. End-users would be not aware that a DNS-lookup is made to reach their partner.

The ENUM standard, also know as e164.arpa, is organised along the lines of the traditional numbering plan - and is therefore controlled by national regulators and, internationally, by the International Telecommunication Union. This has slowed progress. It is increasingly clear that VoIP providers will not wait for the official ENUM.

As well as e164.info, several other competitors to the "official ENUM tree" have been planted on the net. One is peer2peer solution Dundi, an Australia-based e164.org, which is organized according to the User ENUM principle, according to Salmon. ®

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