The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) revealed yesterday that as well as creating a new ‘076’ number range for forthcoming voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) services in Ireland, business and home internet users can also arrange to have existing phone numbers or new numbers pertinent to their geographic location in the country set up.
Under the proposed framework, Irish home and business phone users will be able to call existing landline numbers from their PC or a VoIP handset.
According to ComReg, the new framework puts it and the UK telecoms regulator Oftel in pole position amongst regulators worldwide preparing their respective markets for VoIP. Along with the UK, Ireland is one of the few markets in the world where VoIP users will be able to obtain geographic as well as non-geographic (076) numbers. In Austria, for example, the regulator has decided to provide only for non-geographic numbers, while in the US where it is anticipated there will be 18.5m VoIP users by 2008, legislation in different states may hamper market rollout.
According to David Gunning, the director of ComReg’s market framework division, the new framework also has a strong emphasis on the education and rights of consumers about VoIP services. For example, operators authorised to provide VoIP services would have to educate and be fully transparent about the quality of the VoIP service and explain the differences between traditional voice services and VoIP.
“The reason why we decided to allow people to obtain geographic prefixes [such as 01, 021, 046, 061 or 091] is because they may prefer to be contacted that way. Businesses, for example, may feel it would offer a better, more solid perception of their business, despite the fact that they may be taking calls over the internet from a different geography.”
VoIP is expected to become a market reality in Ireland in 2005 with the spread of broadband (DSL and wireless) and numerous players including Esat BT, Irish Broadband and VoIP Ireland have expressed an interest in deploying services. Many believe that the roll out of VoIP services will have serious implications for traditional fixed-line carriers as users will opt in droves for cheaper, even free, phone calls over the internet. Companies such as Skype and Vonage are rapidly growing their user base of VoIP customers who can make free phone calls to each other over the respective services.
Gunning said that ComReg is working to make VoIP as real a service as possible and is working to ensure that VoIP numbers are traceable for emergency services in a similar fashion to the emergency numbers 112 and 999.
ComReg engineer Oonagh O’Reilly said that she expects new services to be deployed through VoIP such as video calls, call conferencing and potential data services such as white boarding (two or more users can work on a document during a VoIP call), file transfer and group working.
“VoIP is a major development in telecommunications,” Gunning explained. “While the traditional switched network continues to serve us well in providing voice services, we are now entering a new era of voice services in the internet age.
“We are committed to fostering innovation and facilitating the development of new services for the benefit of consumers. Our aim is to provide a clear framework to operators and consumers for the provision of these next-generation voice services.
“ComReg’s decision has been reached following extensive consultation with industry and consumers,” Gunning said.
Companies that responded to a consultation by ComReg during the summer on the subject of VoIP included: ALTO, AT&T, Chorus, Cisco Systems, Colt Telecom, Eircom, Esat BT, NTL, O2, Real Broadband, Skype, Vodafone and VOIP Ireland.