Iconz signs up to global telephony network

The Internet Company of New Zealand (Iconz) has signed up to a global Internet telephony network which will allow it to offer international calls up to 80% cheaper than current Telecom rates. Iconz has agreed with American-based Global Exchange Carrier (GXC) to become a node in GXC's worldwide network of telephony gateways. The agreement will allow Iconz to offer inexpensive long-distance telephone rates initially to its subscribers and then to the general public.

The Internet Company of New Zealand (Iconz) has signed up to a global Internet telephony network which will allow it to offer international calls up to 80% cheaper than current Telecom rates.

Iconz has agreed with American-based Global Exchange Carrier (GXC) to become a node in GXC's worldwide network of telephony gateways. The agreement will allow Iconz to offer inexpensive long-distance telephone rates initially to its subscribers and then to the general public.

The project is similar to initiatives taken earlier this year with Telecom and Voyager. Users will be able to dial a local access number, enter a PIN and then dial the desired number overseas. The call will be routed through Iconz's GXC gateway to the global GXC network, where it will be relayed to the most appropriate terminal gateway. No computer equipment or special skills will be required. Iconz will initially install three gateways in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Although pricing has yet to be finalised, Rusty Cline, Senior Vice President of GXC, expects rates to be up to 80% cheaper than current Telecom charges

Each gateway will be equipped with aUS$27,000 GXC Local Exchange Server Gateway. GXC takes US$0.04 from each phone call placed on the system to cover billing and administration fees. Each node partner is free to set local pricing.

"The advantage of the GXC solution", says Ken Price, managing director of Internet Telephone Technology, the NZ agent for GXC, "is that the infrastructure for billing, marketing, and management of an international long distance telephone network is already in place. Each gateway partner, such as Iconz, is responsible for marketing the service in its own area. GXC provides the hardware and infrastructure. Other systems we have investigated just don't have the structure behind them that GXC does. If you can't get the billing right, you can't do business."

Sound quality, always an issue with voice over the Internet, has improved to the point where there is only a slight echo on most calls.

"We are pumping a lot of resource into developing still higher quality sound," says Cline. "Areas such as compression, echo cancellation, and reduction of packet loss are being pushed to improvements in quality. We are seeing amazing results in just the last six months."

Cline was in New Zealand as part of a multi-country tour to line up gateway partners in other countries. Currently, there are gateways in the US, Japan, Israel, the UK, and Korea. He expects to have more than 100 partners by the end of the year.

The Iconz trial is expected to start in the next few weeks with a public rollout some time after that.

"We anticipate offering not only normal phone to phone services, but also intranet/extranet solutions," says Iconz general manager Hugh McKellar. "Companies will be able to use their existing WAN structure or the Internet to route PABX calls. The potential cost savings are enormous."

The move is seen as a strategic move for both Iconz and GXC. Providing telephony capabilities to customers will enhance the product mix that Iconz provides and the addition of a strong partner in NZ for GXC adds to the critical mass required for a successful worldwide network.

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