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VoIP kit goes on sale in 136 Staples stores

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US-based VoIP call company Vonage formally set up shop in the UK today, moving its no-time-limit call package for £10 a month out of the testing phase it's been in since January.

The tenner, paid up front by rolling credit-card billing, gives you free calls to other Vonage users and to landlines in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Calls to mobile phones are priced at 5-15p a minute, depending on whether you call at weekends, in the evening or during working days.

International calls are extra too, but it's the same rate irrespective of when you call. Calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers are extra too, depending on the time of day. The package includes voicemail, call forwarding, three-way calls, caller ID and call diversion. Emergency 999 calls are guaranteed.

Subscribing to Vonage brings you a new phone number, but you can select from any of the 120 local geographical codes the service currently supports over here. By the end of the summer it will support 400-450 local codes, local MD Kerry Ritz said - essentially all the DSL-equipped local BT exchanges.

The catch is the need for not only a broadband connection - cable packages are supported as well as phone-based ADSL links - but you need a phone adaptor too.

Unlike VoIP flavour-of-the-month Skype, Vonage's service is designed to be used with a regular handset. The receiver connects to the Net via the adaptor, which digitises the conversation and routes it though an Ethernet port to Vonage's servers and on to the recipient.

However you connect, the company said the call quality will be as good as or better than fixed-line connections through telcos.

Vonage today launched a Linksys-made router with RJ-11 jacks for the handsets and Ethernet connections for modems and computers. The router will sell through the company's first UK retail partner, Staples, from 1 June, Ritz said. Pricing has yet to be determined, but the package will include the £16.99 set-up fee Vonage charges folk who order online.

Vonage will also offer an adaptor that links handsets to existing broadband routers or direct to modems. A wireless router will ship this summer, as will a package to connect a pair of DECT cordless phones to the system.

Vonage also offers a software-based phone for £6 a month from which you can make up to 500 minutes' of local calls for free. But you need to have a regular tenner-a-month Vonage account too. That 500-minute limitation also applies to the £19 Vonage Small Business package's fax-oriented second line. The main line is unlimited, like the £10-a-month residential package.

Vonage currently has "a little over 700,000 subscriber lines", said Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Citron, most of them in the US. Some ten per cent of those lines are small business subscriptions.

Citron said he was not concerned that telcos' ISP divisions will start to cap or even block VoIP traffic in a bid to protect their revenues as Mexico's Telmex appears to have done. Telmex ADSL subscribers can't even access the Skype website, he said.

"Such actions are already illegal in the US," he told The Register, "and we think the regulator would look on them very unfavourably in the UK." ®

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