Wired News reports on a new venture launched by Lindows founder Michael Robertson in Internet telephony:

SIPphone sells $65 phones that call anywhere in the world essentially for free. Users don’t pay per-call or per-minute fees, just the cost of their regular broadband service and a one-time cost for the device, which arrives pre-configured with a unique phone number in the area code “747” (“S-I-P” on your phone keypad). Turn the SIPphone on, plug it in to your broadband connection and place your call.

But unlike services offered by many of its established competitors, with SIPphone you can only call other compatible SIP devices, not “regular” land lines or cell phones.

The service is based on session initiation protocol, or SIP, a voice-over-IP, or VoIP, technology standard that manages voice traffic moving throughout Internet-based networks. For more than a decade, proponents have touted VoIP as a cost-saving, flexible alternative to the conventional public telephone network, but its use has so far largely been limited to corporate users and tech-savvy early adopters.

By offering low-cost SIP phones — $129.99 per pair, with plans to reduce the price to $40 per phone within a year and $20 within two — Robertson hopes to tap into SIP’s early momentum, just as he did with his Linux and MP3 ventures.

“Wherever there’s massive potential disruption, there’s massive business opportunity … that happens wherever you can completely digitize a product — with music, MP3s; with software, Linux; with voice communication, SIP,” says Robertson. “By moving something from the offline world into the digital world, you’re placing it back in the consumer’s control.”

“There’s no per-minute cost for the phone company to zap electrons from one set of copper wires to another, so why do we pay per minute?” he says, “If you intersect with the (regular phone) system, you inherit their cost structure. With SIP to SIP, it can all be free.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.