SBC Communications began offering a hosted voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone service aimed at enterprise customers Thursday, in an effort to win clients that want to cut costs and don't want to buy their own VoIP servers.SBC Communications\u00a0began offering a hosted voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone service aimed at enterprise customers Thursday, in an effort to win clients that want to cut costs and don't want\u00a0to buy their own VoIP servers.SBC rolled out the VoIP service to 18\u00a0metro areas -\u00a0including Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago -\u00a0in its 13-state service region and plans to serve 30 metro markets, including New York and Philadelphia, by the end of the year, said Michael Coe, an SBC spokesman. The goal is to win long-distance customers across the U.S. by using VoIP to compete with traditional long-distance services offered by national carriers such as MCI and AT&T.The hosted service will allow enterprises to avoid hardware and maintenance costs associated with on-site VoIP servers, SBC said.SBC's announcement comes just days after Randall Stephenson, SBC's senior vice president and chief financial officer,\u00a0called VoIP a "threat"\u00a0to his company's residential phone service offerings in its 13-state local phone service region.\u00a0But just as other VoIP vendors could cut into SBC's residential market, the company sees an opportunity to expand its long-distance offerings to enterprises across the U.S., Coe said."In the business market, it's an opportunity," Coe added. "We're going into businesses we weren't previously able to serve."MCI has been offering VoIP services since 2001, with a hosted service and other advanced features available since October 2002, said MCI spokeswoman Natasha Haubold. "We're in that competitive market," she said. "We've already entered into the local market with voice over IP. We feel like we're in a very strong place in the marketplace."SBC's announcement, coupled with\u00a0a VoIP announcement\u00a0from Qwest Communications International\u00a0this week, shows that the regional Bells are looking at VoIP as a way to stay competitive with other vendors, said telecom analyst Jeff Kagan in an e-mail. Kagan said he doesn't see VoIP as a big threat to the Bells, including SBC and Qwest, at the moment, but the technology will be an important piece of telecom services in the future."The Bells have millions of customers and billions in revenues and they want to protect that base so IP offerings are obviously defensive, but they are also offensive allowing the Bells to grow their data and IP business," Kagan wrote. "IP will let the Bells compete on a nationwide basis against other Bells and long distance companies since they don't need phone lines nationwide, only broadband connections and data lines, which they either have or have access to."The price of the new SBC VoIP service, called SBC PremierSERVSM Hosted IP Communication Service (HIPCS), starts at $30 a month per phone for unlimited local dialing, and $40 a month for unlimited local and long distance.SBC's PremierSERV HIPCS service includes:-- Unified messaging: Voice mail and e-mail can be consolidated in a single inbox, and voice mail can be forwarded like e-mail.-- "Find me, follow me": Enables employees to forward calls to a mobile phone, remote office or another extension.-- "Click to call": Enables one-click calling from a phone set or PC Web browser.