Internet telephone communication looms large on the horizon
publiziert: Sonntag, 25. Mrz 2001 / 09:10 Uhr

Geneva - Telephoning via the Internet is on the way. According to the latest estimates by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), four million minutes of talk time were conducted over the Internet or the intranets of private firms last year - and that's just traffic across international borders.

While that makes up only three per cent of all international telephone activity, things are developing rapidly: it's expected that this year will see voice communication over IP (Internet Protocol) networks grow more than 50 per cent. This last figure stems from a report about IP-telephony, released by the ITU for a seminar recently held in Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

Internet telephony is attractive because conversations are significantly cheaper than with traditional carriers. Sound quality, once poor, continues to get better and better. Firms in the United States, for example, use Internet telephony to give customer service from a call center located in India. The conversations are transported over the IP networks back and forth over thousands of miles. Private callers may also be rejoicing at the cheap prices, but the state-run telephone monopolies, particularly in developing nations, are not smiling at all: every Internet call costs them money. In Sri Lanka, for example, the past year saw a drop in total call minutes from 16 million per month to 9 million. That has meant a loss of two million dollars per month for the state telephone concern. With international telephone calls, the company that services a phone call in the land of origin shares part of the bill for the call with the phone company in the land receiving the call.

Countries that traditionally have many emigrants abroad have profited considerably when these wanderers call back home. The ITU estimates that over the course of the 1990s, these compensation payments totaled around 50 million dollars. Internet telephony doesn't work over the state-controlled channels, however. Practically speaking, the governments just cannot oversee this traffic. Reaction to this dilemma has been varied: Some states have attempted to forbid all Internet telephony, while others have tried to subsume it within their state-run telecommunications monopoly. Others view IP-telephony as another form of data transport which is not to be regulated. The ITU seminar in Geneva is intended to help representatives from industry and from the regulating authorities become clear about the potential and the opportunities presented by this technology and to find a concept about how to coexist with the quickly growing phenomenon. China, for one, has recently done a speedy about-face. The Chen brothers, who in 1998 began offering half-price international telephone calls through their computer shop in Fuyhou, found themselves in jail not too long ago. The official charge was injury to the China Telecom company.

Lucky for the Chens, the appellate judge was a genuine "wangchong" - Chinese for Internet junkie. He reversed their conviction. The government ministries suddenly sensed an unrealized opportunity. Three firms were commissioned to build up new networks, and the Chinese people have scrambled to get connected. Since then, the system has grown rapidly. The government estimates that income from Internet telephony will total more than 12 billion dollars in the coming year.


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