Philips releases VoIP phones for the masses

Electronics maker Philips is selling cordless telephones that can make Internet-based voice calls using either Windows Live Messenger, or Skype, as well as utilising the existing public switched telephone network.

Philips has been working towards bringing to market consumer electronics and tech products into a roadmap which it calls Connected Planet. So far, this has encompassed routers, media centre PCs and wireless streaming devices. The VoIP phones are the latest products to fill that picture.

"VoIP technology has been around. The challenge is to get that into a product so consumers use it like a normal phone," said Matt Moran, general manager of consumer electronics at Philips.

The company plans to put them on sale in early September and they will be sold in mass merchant stores such as Kmart, Harvey Norman, Office Works and Harris Technology.

The two phones are the VOIP321 utilising the Skype network, and will sell for $129.95; while the VOIP433 Windows Live Messenger dual phone will sell for $159.95. According to Philips, the extra charge for the Microsoft-based phone is because it utilises a colour screen.

Customers can also purchase two handsets for $199.95 and $249.95, respectively.

Having two handsets in the household or business enables customers to carry conversations simultaneously, where one phone can be used for VoIP while the other for regular PSTN calls.

Each phone comes with a hub with two cords - a power cord, and a USB cable that users plug into a PC connected to the Internet, which allows for VoIP calls to be made. Both phones support the cordless phone technology known as DECT, which in Australia is the sole user of the 1.88-1.9GHz frequency. This means the phones are not subjected to any interference from other household items.

To make VoIP calls, users press a Skype or Messenger key at the base of the phone. This instantly brings up icons on the phone's LCD screen that is similar to what they'd see on their PCs.

Some of the PSTN features include a call log for missed calls, hands free, store up to 50 numbers, direct conference call and caller ID if supported by the local operator.

With both phones, calls to fellow users of Skype or Messenger are free. However, calls from Skype or Messenger to landlines incur a cost. Customers that buy the Skype phone before Christmas will also receive a 60 minutes voucher for free SkypeOut to call landline or mobile numbers worldwide.

Moran said phones for other services such as Yahoo might be launched at a later date.