Level 3 launches VoIP-based call center service

* Level 3 expands suite of voice over IP offerings

Level 3 Communications has expanded its suite of voice over IP offerings with a new toll-free calling service designed to help call center operators, service providers and others reduce their monthly fees when compared to Public Switched Telephone Network 800-number services.

The new service, called (3) VoIP Toll Free, allows customers to establish a toll-free presence on the PSTN. Calls are converted into IP and directed across Level 3's IP backbone for delivery as a VoIP application. With (3) VoIP Toll Free, customers can leverage the less-expensive Internet backbone as well as take advantage of new features not possible with the PSTN.

One early customer of Level 3's latest service is Raindance Communications, a Web conferencing service provider that claims to be the first to offer VoIP-based services (see the last ISP News Report for more about Raindance VoIP). Raindance's VoIP-based service will be available in March in all 70-plus locations in the U.S. where Level 3 offers IP-based toll-free and local calling. Raindance also uses Level 3's VoIP-based local calling service. 

Raindance co-founder and CTO Todd Vernon says VoIP-based services are a major innovation for the audio conferencing industry. Now Raindance can provide its enterprise customers with the ability to dial into conference calls using a less-expensive toll-free number or a local access number rather than making a long-distance call.

"We are taking the AOL model and extending it to voice conferencing," Vernon says. "This is a huge change, and no one else is doing that. It's a major shift in the economics of voice conferencing. Now we can drive the economics of the entire package toward Internet economics."

"Raindance sees our VoIP services as the first volley towards launching new products and new capabilities to help them differentiate themselves in the somewhat crowded teleconferencing marketplace," Level 3 Vice President Dennis Kyle says.

Level 3's toll-free VoIP offering comes on the heels of several other VoIP-related announcements from the IP wholesaler in recent months. In September, Level 3 announced its first VoIP offerings: (3) VoIP Marketplace and (3) Tone. These products support VoIP-based local calling nationwide and are sold through local carriers and other service providers.

SBC and Qwest have announced plans to resell Level 3's VoIP services, and Level 3 says another 25-plus value added resellers have signed up to sell the (3) Tone service.

"There's a lot of interest in all of the [VoIP] products," Kyle says. "We've sold several customers since our announcement in September."

Level 3 won't disclose how much of its network traffic comes from VoIP applications. But Kyle says the company is seeing "double-digit weekly growth" in VoIP calls.

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