Users continue to doubt the quality of VoIP services, even though more carriers are beginning to adopt the technology.

AT&T is the latest to introduce a number of new initiatives, including a programme to develop common standards for the technology and an expansion of its international VOIP remote worker pilot project.

However the issue of quality of VOIP service was overwhelmingly the primary concern for survey respondents.

According to research commissioned by AT&T and carried out by Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd. (EIU), the biggest draw of VoIP for corporations (87 percent) is its ability to reduce the cost of calls, though questions about quality of service remain a problem.

In particular, quality was more of a concern for those already using or testing VOIP (67 percent), than for those who have yet to implement the technology (64 percent). "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. He added that users also feared that the system was not as fail-safe as its traditional telephone service.

With its long-distance business under increasing competitive pressure, Ace readily 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 revenue streams. "We want to sell more bandwidth and more managed services both in the U.S. and internationally; to facilitate access to data applications and services," said Jeff Ace, vice president for global business development at AT&T,

Part of the company's program to develop common standards for VoIP includes allowing its partner companies, such as Intel, Cisco and Texas Instruments, to test applications and equipment for VOIP using the proprietary specifications developed by AT&T. Partners are also working with AT&T to develop a range of products for the VOIP market, Ace said. Other AT&T partners include Alcatel, Siemens, semiconductor maker Broadcom and Nortel Networks.

AT&T expects to be begin commercially offering VoIP remote worker services, based on its CallVantage Service platform, in the first quarter of next year. The company has yet to determine pricing, according to Niall Hickey, director of communications for AT&T EMEA.

"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."

Calling services for remote workers - be they people working from home or business travellers - will include global teleconferencing, integration of voicemail with e-mail and the ability for users to avoid wireless global roaming charges.

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.