Allstream Corp. continues to broaden the number of products it offers in the IP voice market with the introduction July 7 of its new Voice over IP access service aimed at new third-party enterprises seeking to provide VoIP services to end customers.  The offering follows fast on the heels of the introduction last month of Allstream’s managed IP-PBX service (NL, June 22/04). Like it, the new VoIP service is intended to get customers off the ground quickly and with a minimum of upfront investment. In mid-June, Allstream’s first customer to go public, Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., announced it was using the Allstream offering to provide its TalkBroadband VoIP service (NL, June 22/04). Now, Allstream has made the product generally available. Allstream is touting that it is the first in Canada to offer full ancillary services, including 911, 411, local number portability, and operator services to VoIP players, as well as the ability to tap into existing Allstream products such as long-distance programs, calling card and Internet offerings. It will compete with the other large carrier offerings such as those that will likely be offered by BCE Inc. and TELUS outside their incumbent serving territories. Already, says Allstream VP, product management, connectivity and marketing, Eric Fletcher, the company has been fielding calls from potential customers. Since launching the product, others have started kicking the tires in earnest. Fletcher won’t say exactly how many have expressed interest. Fletcher flaunts Allstream’s broad network reach in this country as one competitive advantage against other offerings, as well as the fact that the company is prepared to turn the switch on for companies today with all its systems complete. Further, he says, the company has solved the 911 bugbear that has been viewed by analysts as a potential throttle on the industry. He declines an opportunity to divulge details, but says the company has found a way to route 911 emergency calls to the appropriate public safety answering authority (PSAP). The service will be offered on a per-subscriber basis, he says, to allow growth without high startup costs. The customer will own the soft switch, with Allstream handling the off-network traffic to and from the PSTN. The Allstream portfolio is almost complete, he says, although the company has plans to offer a service to those companies that don’t even want to own that much gear. "In the service that we talk about here, the VoIP access, the customer actually owns the soft switch. There are organizations that want to potentially get into this business and not even own the soft switch – potentially. So that they’re saying, ‘can you do all this new functionality in the IP space for me, and sell it to me on a per-subscriber basis?’ That’s one of the areas where we’re potentially going. And that could also be Allstream launching into that space, right? ...One of the interesting technology changes that’s going on is as you move into the IP space, you can become kind of that Voice over IP or IP application organization and not necessarily own all the underlying network infrastructure. We’ve built services to allow that part of the market to flourish while we also will do some of that ourselves." While the managed IP-PBX system has a potentially limitless customer base, it’s unlikely that the market will see a huge influx of new players reselling VoIP services – a prospect that doesn’t faze Fletcher. He argues that the variety of packages and service offerings a VoIP provider might want to offer will see an extensive number of cablecos and new entrants looking at the Allstream offering. "VoIP, or X-over-IP as we call it here, is actually a little bit of a disruptive technology. Because of the divorcing of the application layer from the network, it allows a lot more suppliers to come into the market that might not have been viewed as traditional telephony oriented organizations. We’ve already seen an organization from the U.S. called Vonage come up," he said. "And, we think that you’re going to see other people that are either ISP or people that target services to ISPs, self-services and along these lines, and they’ll use it as a way to get into a specific marketplace."