Local Internet providers may soon have another communications supplier at their door offering to help get them into the Internet phone business.

Brian Mintz, vice-president of marketing for Gentek Marketing Inc. of Concord, Ont., a manufacturer and distributor of networking equipment, says

the company will reveal offerings for service providers either next month or January.

“”We will bring a solution to market,”” he promised, “”but we’re still hammering out the details.””

“”We want to work with ISPs,”” he said. “”We’re trying to make sure there’s a way to make money with this.””

The idea is to go after small and medium corporate markets with a marriage of Internet providers’ high-speed data services to PBXs, handsets and other equipment sold by Gentek.

The plan has advanced enough that according to Gentek president Mitchel Freedman the company is already stocking hardware.

“”We’re very serious about it,”” he said, “”and have made the commitment to inventory products for it. We’ve already got demand.””

“”The equipment isn’t going to be the difficulty,”” said Mintz. “”It will be the billing and back-end side that’s important. We have to be sure we can partner with the appropriate companies that can offer a simple, clean package.””

VoIP, a fledgling technology, promises to offer companies the advantage of having voice and data over one network as well as IP-based voice applications.

Gentek is just one of a number companies racing to get some piece of the VoIP pie now that service has started. Other suppliers talking to ISPs range from multinationals such as Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems and Lucent Technologies, which are selling customer and back-end solutions, to manufacturers such as D-Link Systems.

Among the first providers in this country were Primus Telecommunications Canada, Galaxy Telecom and Vonage Canada. Offerings from Bell Canada and cable giant Rogers Communications in the early stages.

Local ISPs, with their high-speed connections, may have a play in the market by reselling VoIP services.

However, IP telephony still has a number of pitfalls to be ironed out including assuring companies that the quality of service will be the same as they’re getting now from their local phone company, a guarantee that VoIP-delivered phone numbers will be listed in commonly-used phone books, making sure caller-ID systems are compatible with Canadian standards and assuring that the service will be hooked into the local 911 networks so emergency services can track back calls.

This last requirement is one of the biggest stumbling blocks says Francisco Dominguez, chief technology officer of Golden Triangle On Line Inc., a Kitchener, Ont. service provider.

The company is eager to have a full VoIP offering, he said. But because the 911 problem hasn’t been solved yet can only offer companies a partial solution: Internet telephony between branch offices, but not for outside calls.

Still, he said, “”our mandate is to have voice-over-IP service for the majority of our client base by year-end.””

Mintz acknowledged these problems would in the short term hobble any VoIP solution offered. “”Initially to go totally VoIP without any backup may be foolish,”” he said, adding that standard phone lines and VoIP-based outgoing long-distance systems of subscribers may have to co-exist until these difficulties are ironed out.

As well “”some of the (voice) quality is suspect”” today and that will hold back some customers. But he said others would think it’s enough to justify the promised cost savings.

Such obstacles are among the reasons why Toronto-based Internet Light and Power is in no rush to bring out VoIP services.

“”We’re looking at coming to the market sometime in the fourth quarter of 2005,”” said company president Tristan Goguen.

It may come sooner. The big cable companies will be the catalysts to VoIP early next year, predicted Brian Sharwood, a telecom industry analyst with the SeaBoard Group. “”They’re going to start pushing at the (incumbent) phone companies, and that’s when the big marketing dollars arrive. Suddenly people are going to know what it is.””

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