Yahoo, Linksys unveil VOIP/cordless phone

Cordless handset developed for Yahoo Messenger

Yahoo's instant messaging system already lets consumers talk into their PCs; now it's going out to a cordless phone.

A handset from Cisco Systems's Linksys consumer division lets users make and receive calls both on Yahoo Messenger with Voice and over a regular phone line. The phone, called the CIT310, also has a small color display so users can scroll through their Yahoo Messenger contacts or search for a local business.

The dual-mode feature arrives thanks to DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications), a European standard for cordless phones that supports both data and conventional voice traffic, said Linksys spokeswoman Karen Sohl. U.S. cordless phone technology typically has not supported data, she said. DECT was approved for use in the U.S. within the past few years and in Canada earlier this year, Sohl said. The product is being offered only in the U.S. and Canada.

With the arrival of VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol), instant-messaging providers such as Yahoo are trying to get into the phone business alongside cable operators and other new players. Breaking away from the need to use a PC is a big step toward making VOIP communication like a regular phone call. EBay's Skype Internet-calling division has announced a DECT phone with Koninklijke Philips Electronics and a Wi-Fi phone with Netgear, among others.

Leaving out Wi-Fi helped Linksys keep the price of the device down, according to Sohl. The estimated street price of the CIT310 is US$99.99. DECT operates in a separate unlicensed band from Wi-Fi, around 1.8GHz and 1.9GHz. Built-in encryption and authentication secures DECT phone calls, she said. Wi-Fi can't carry conventional phone calls.

The Linksys phone comes with a base station that can connect to both a conventional phone line and a PC's USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. Yahoo Messenger is built in to the device. Using Yahoo Messenger with Voice, users can make and receive PC-to-PC calls free and exchange calls over the regular phone network at low rates, according to the companies. They can also use the CIT310 as a conventional cordless phone.

In addition, users can enter their local ZIP code and a search term, such as "restaurant," using the keypad. The phone's screen will display results from the Yahoo Local Search service, and the user can then scroll through that list and click to call an entry.

The CIT310 is available now from Amazon.com and will soon be offered by other online retailers. Linksys hopes to have the phones in stores starting in January.

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