AT&T has come up with a range of new VoIP programmes, including one to develop common standards, to encourage more companies to take on the technology.

However, according to its own research, concerns about the quality of service of Internet phonecalls continue to dog the market. "We are trying to accelerate and answer some of the questions as to 'so what?' and accelerate what can be brought in from the future and bring forward the initiatives that can be wrapped around VoIP," Jeff Ace, vice president for global business development, garbled.

With its traditional long-distance business under increasing pressure, Ace conceded AT&T sees Internet calling and its associated products and services as the way for the company to open doors to new markets and revenues. "We want to sell more bandwidth and more managed services both in the US and internationally to facilitate access to data applications and services."

Part of this includes allowing its partner companies, including Intel, Cisco and Texas Instruments to test applications and equipment for VoIP using the proprietary specs developed by AT&T. Partners (also including Alcatel, Siemens, Broadcom and Nortel) are also working with AT&T to develop a range of products for the VoIP market, Ace said.

Outside of the US market, AT&T is targeting only large multi-national corporations and, as part of those efforts, is conducting a VoIP remote worker pilot project involving companies with locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the UK. According to AT&T, 23 companies have now signed up to the trials, which were launched in June.

The remote worker services, based on its CallVantage Service platform, should be available at the start of next year. The company has yet to determine pricing, according to Niall Hickey, European director of communications. "The companies involved in the trials aren't currently paying for the service," Hickey said. "Once the trials are concluded, we'll look at things like usage patterns to help in determining pricing."

According to research commissioned by AT&T and carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the biggest draw of VoIP for corporations is its ability to reduce the cost of calls, though questions about quality of service remain a problem.

The issue of quality was the primary concern for survey respondents. Furthermore, quality was more of a concern for those already using or testing VoIP than those yet to implement it. "The fact that quality of service is a higher concern for those who have implemented VoIP would lead us to say that not all of the kinks have been worked out yet," said Denis McCauley, director of global technology research for EIU.

Quality problems included transmission interruptions and delays, McCauley said, but users also feared that the system was not as fail-safe as its traditional telephone service. AT&T's Ace said that the technology has rapidly matured and that quality issues are constantly being addressed. "If it's on our network, you're guaranteed quality, but it is more difficult if a company is using another ISP. On the backbone, there is little congestion. Access is where you still suffer congestion."

As part of the EIU survey, 254 senior executives were interviewed across the world. Despite concerns about performance, 43 percent of respondents to the EIU survey said that they are currently using, testing or planning to implement VoIP within the next two years, while 18 percent said they plan to implement it in the long term.