When Windows XP hits desktops Oct. 25, users will be able to make telephone calls from their PC.

Microsoft Canada and Burnaby, B.C.-based telco Telus Corp. will jointly offer Canadians the ability to make voice calls over the Internet to virtually any phone number using voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology.

The new offering is called Telus Voice Over Internet Service and will be included as part of the Windows Messenger service in the latest incarnation of the software giant’s operating system.

Telus and Microsoft have been working together since June to develop the technology, although both companies had already been working on VoIP technologies separately.

One of the most important elements of success VoIP is network reliability. “I’m very happy to commit my network colleagues to 20 ‘nines’ of reliability, but they’ll probably flinch when they hear me say it,” said Telus Business Transformation president Paul Mirabelle said. “Network reliability is something we can’t and shouldn’t take for granted. We’re very confident long-term that the quality that’s required to support this will be there. The trials that have been conducted have been very successful.”

Mirabelle said he doesn’t expect the service to replace use of the telephone. “We see this as being very much an ancillary service that adds further value to anyone that’s working from their PC,” he said. “It doesn’t replace the local line, but we expect this will stimulate fresh demand that wouldn’t otherwise be there.”

The Voice Over Internet Service is consistent with Telus’s vision to bring more data solutions to customers, added Mirabelle. “We’re moving aggressively toward the data front and this is part of it.”

Lawrence Surtees, telecom analyst with IDC Canada into Toronto, said for the most part carriers have been shying away from VoIP. “I think they’ve cast a leery eye on it in the sense that they don’t want their customers talking from a toilet bowl, especially if they’re a business.”

Barbara Alexander, regional sales manager for Microsoft, B.C region, said that toilet bowl echo effect is a thing of the past, thanks to new codec that eliminates the voice staggering effect. “When you listen to this new service, it sounds like a DVD player.”

Surtees said telcos could see offerings such as this as a step into the doors of new customers. “They’re looking at an installed base of Microsoft users and saying ‘What the heck?’”

Surtees doesn’t see the Microsoft/Telus offering as a huge deal, he added. “I see that Telus or some company would look at Microsoft as a distribution channel for getting seats for its high speed/whatever-other-access-service.” But even that step in the door would not mean automatic customers, said Surtees.

He also said that a software maker such as Microsoft would likely not limit itself to one provider for the service.

Alexander said that for Telus in the only Canadian provider for now with providers for other countries to be announced soon.

At the end of the day, the Telus offering gives people the ability to do PC calling. “Apple was doing that in ’85,” said Surtees. “The only thing different about this is we’re going over an IP connection and not data pack.”

Business users would be hard-pressed to find a compelling reason drop already favorable long distance contracts for VoIP via the desktop PC. “They negotiate big bundles and fixed term contracts.”

Meanwhile, Bell Canada will soon embark on a series of tests in Ontario and Quebec for making clear phone calls over the Internet, using Net2Phone’s Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology.

“The two biggest telecom carriers are sort of waking up and saying ‘Let’s play or do something with Voice over IP.”

Bell said the tests will focus on security and reliability of service.

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