Verizon Wireless Makes Voice-Over-Internet Play

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As Verizon Communications continues to lose traditional landline customers by the thousands, the telco has turned to the wireless side of the house to introduce a voice-over-Internet service delivered through an appliance-like phone system called the Verizon Hub.

The Hub features a color touch-screen and a cordless handset in a system that runs on any broadband connection-whether provided by Verizon, a cable operator or other service provider.

The phone, provided through Verizon Wireless, will cost $200 (after a $50 rebate) and customers must sign a two-year contract with a $35 minimum monthly charge for the Verizon Hub Digital Voice plan. The product will be available beginning Feb. 1 at Verizon Wireless' 2,200 retail outlets and online.

In addition to voice calling and voicemail, the phone provides news, information, phone-directory lookups, video and other interactive features such as driving directions and ordering movie tickets.

With the enhanced features, Verizon Wireless is targeting customers "who are dropping home phone service, but are not completely satisfied with the cellular-only service they are using," said telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

The company, a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone, is positioning Verizon Hub as a way to help families stay in touch, with calendar and message functions that are accessible from the Web.

The phone system will provide some links to existing Verizon Wireless phones, such as allowing customers to access the Chaperone service that identifies the location of their children's phones and sending text and video messaging between wireless phones and the Verizon Hub. The Hub also will be able to play back V CAST video content and will function as a digital picture frame when not otherwise in use.

Asked why the Hub is being offered by the wireless carrier rather than the wireline telco, Verizon Wireless executive director of corporate communications Jeffrey Nelson cited the product's integration with mobile phones as well as the ability to offer it nationally and not soley in the Verizon landline footprint. The Hub "extends the Verizon brand and availability nationwide," he said in an e-mail.

Separately, Verizon Communications is planning to roll out an Internet-based phone service for FiOS Internet and TV customers in early 2009. Called FiOS Digital Voice, the service is expected to be priced comparably to the telco's existing calling plans but will include enhanced capabilities such as scheduled call-forwarding (also known as "follow me"), phone-book synchronization and click-to-dial.

Verizon in 2004 had launched a voice-over-broadband service called VoiceWing, but that the telco is no longer actively marketing that service.

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