Broadband phones to hit Dick Smith, mass retailer shelves

Mobile Innovations is moving on from its severed Vodafone partnership to develop broadband phones for the consumer market, with its first product to hit the shelves of Dick Smith and other major retail outlets this week.

The "Engin Voice Box" uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to allow home users to make calls to, and receive calls from any landline or mobile phone over their existing broadband Internet connection.

Engin Voice Box does not require software to operate and does not even require the computer to be turned on.

"We started investing in this technology at the start of last year and we have been trialling it since March this year," Mobile Innovations CEO Ilkka Tales said.

Trials have so far found the greatest benefit to the consumer is that it reduces call costs by up to 40 per cent. It also offers other features such a voice mail and V-mail, where a voice mail message can be emailed as a sound file to the user.

Consumers can make local and inter-capital city calls for 10c unlimited, with no charge for Engin-to-Engin calls.

"Local call areas are wherever we have a point of presence, which at the moment is every capital city," said Tales. "This is dependent on uptake by consumers. We will roll out to regional and rural Australia if the demand is there."

Calls can be made to some international destinations like the USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand for as little as 5c per minute. Customers are not locked into contracts and call connection fees are not charged.

The unit works by being plugged into the telephone and the broadband router. It digitises the voice and sends it through the router, enabling customers to talk on the phone as they would normally. The unit is based on the global open-standard SIP protocol.

Tales is optimistic about the market response.

"Billions of minutes worth of voice is being transmitted internationally over IP every year. Consumer VoIP has been extremely successful in other countries like Japan and the US," he said.

"We just have not seen many consumer broadband phone products yet in Australia."

Tales said that while he is not looking for any partners in this arena, he would like to expand his channel relationships

"We want to grow this market space for ourselves," he said.

Media analyst Paul Budde believes the Mobile Innovations move is interesting, as the company has to look for new revenue streams.

"However, VoIP doesn't have the same margins as mobile and is also a much more difficult product to sell, so it will take a long time to compensate for the loss of Vodafone business," he said.

"It is also interesting from another perspective and that is that VoIP could be in competition with mobile. Vodafone tries to undercut fixed line tariffs in the hope to get more minutes on their network. VoIP will eventually eliminate that advantage, so it could also be seen as a move in that direction."

Product manager for Dick Smith, Alex Cochran is also optimistic about the consumer VoIP space.

"We've been closely looking at Voice over IP for two years now, but the Engin Voice Box is the first product that we have seen which is ready for the consumer market in Australia. We are stocking it because it is simple, timely and brings a reduction of cost to the consumer."

He said Dick Smith would be interested in extending the consumer broadband telephony range in the future.

"We've indicated that when Telstra launches their product we will be interested in stocking it, as we will for any other product as long as it is consumer friendly," he said.

"But the bottom line is that it has to be technology-transparent and easy to use, and the Engin Voice Box meets this requirement."

Formerly Vodafone's exclusive Australian partner, Mobile Innovations fought a long-running battle with the international carrier after it set new subscriber sales targets of zero in order to curtail costs.

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