Calls over Internet predicted to soar

Services that allow users to make free calls over the Internet are used in nearly two million British households, Ofcom research found.

The number of Britons using the services, pioneered by companies such as Skype, is expected to rise significantly as broadband uptake increases.

However, key issues such as the reliability of the service, known as voice over internet protocol (VoIP), will need to be addressed before it can become a mass-market proposition, the Ofcom report found.

Internet calls services allow users to make cheap — or even free — calls across the world. Users require only a broadband connection and the right software.

BT, aware of the threat to its traditional fixed-calls business from the service, recently announced an aggressive push into Internet calls. Despite the high profile of Skype, Ofcom found that BT’s VoIP service was the most popular, followed by products from Orange, the French group, then those offered by Skype and Vonage, the US player.

By May 1.8 million British households were active users with conditions ripe for a significant increase over the next three years.

Problems that could hamper roll-out of the service, Ofcom says, are its reliability: a lack of mains power means no phone. Most VoIP services do not provide access to emergency numbers. A PC crash can mean important calls cut out.

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