Vonage to Bundle Service with Linksys, Netgear Routers

In the latest step of its retail strategy, Vonage will bundle its VOIP service in the box with household names in home networking.

Vonage Holding Corp., the VOIP service provider with an early lead in subscriber lines at 235,000, announced an agreement Tuesday to sell its voice-over-net service bundled with adapter-equipped routers from Linksys and Netgear Inc., the two market leaders in home and home-office networking.

Linksys-Vonage cobranded routers and add-on VOIP adapters will be sold immediately in Staples office superstores and through Vonages sign-up site. Other retail outlets, as well as products from Linksys and Netgear, will be added soon.

The retail presence is not Vonages first. This spring, the company rolled out offerings in its own box, under its own name, with VOIP adapters of various makes in Circuit City, RadioShack, Best Buy and Frys Electronics.

But the agreement with the two best-known wireless-router players seeks to win VOIP converts among those merely looking for a router, and especially a wireless one. Buyers of the Vonage-labeled routers will find a box insert with the URL of Vonages sign-up site.

"Once you subscribe, it will become a plug-and-play device," said Michael Tribolet, executive vice president of operations at Vonage. Installation CDs, unchanged by the agreement, will present an alternative method of activating the router, and one that would accept other VOIP providers.

Linksys RT31P2 broadband router, available immediately with a suggested retail price of $89, includes a built-in VOIP adapter for two phone lines. Also available from Linksys is a separate phone adapter, the PAP2, to attach two phone lines to a pre-existing router.

At $59, this is the kind of retrofit most of todays VOIP subscribers use. Linksys VOIP-adapting wireless-G router, the WRT54GP2, also with two phone ports, will be available in a few weeks, with pricing to be announced.

Linksys says it will include VOIP adapter functionality in all new versions of its wired and wireless routers, and will incorporate QoS (quality of service) for voice prioritization over data. Charlie Giancarolo, president of Cisco-Linksys, said home-based workers and teleworkers will find the two ports useful for connecting fax lines.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read more about VOIPs growing presence in retail stores, click here.

Netgear plans to release a voice-enabled 802.11g wireless router "as early as" October, with a wired version soon after. Other details were not available at press time.

While Wi-Fi at 802.11b and at the faster 802.11g has caught on with home and Soho buyers for its on-prem mobility, the VOIP telephone user wont be quite so untethered–at first. He or she still will have to plug the RJ11 end of his phone cord to the VOIP adapter, whether its part of the router or an add-on.

To date, VOIP service providers have suggested cordless phones to those who want to roam around the house, although other solutions to the one-adapter, one-phone problem are coming.

One of Vonages answers to this problem will be the wireless IP phone, now under trial with various manufacturers. According to Tribolet, Vonage is targeting such an offer for the fourth quarter.

Vonage offers rate plans starting from $14.99 for 500 anytime, monthly minutes in the United States and Canada, with many messaging and call-handling features. Current plans also offer phone adapters, which the provider ships to subscribers for a $29.99 activation fee. Retail customers will not be charged this fee.

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