Beginning of the End for the ATA?

Four major VoIP service providers are quickly ramping up to offer their residential customers IP-based cordless systems, which circumvent the need for analog telephone adaptors.

Four major Voice over IP service providers are planning to soon package IP-based cordless phone systems with their offerings.

The providers — BroadVoice, Packet8, VoicePulse and Vonage — currently deliver to their customers analog telephone adaptors (ATA), devices that allow typical handsets to be used to be used in VoIP.

But soon-to-be-released IP-based consumer level cordless phones by three different manufacturers — Panasonic, Uniden and VTech — could signal the beginning of the end for the ATA.

The new devices have similar functionality but vary in form factor and in the number of handsets they can support.

First out of the box is believed to be Packet8, which announced at the Spring 2005 VON conference that it will begin to offer its customers Uniden's whole-house VoIP phone system, the UIP1868, in May.

The Uniden device eliminates the need for an ATA by including an RJ45 ethernet connection on its base station. The unit supplies two VoIP lines — one of which is intended as a connection to a standard fax machine — and supports up to 10 cordless handsets that communicate with the base station over the 5.8GHz frequency.

“We are hiding the router from the end user,” explains Packet8 CEO Bryan Martin. “The base station looks just like a familiar cordless phone base station.”

One advantage of the Uniden base station is that it works with Uniden's existing TRU 5.8GHz digital handsets — meaning that users who already have the popular handsets used with most of Uniden's analog cordelss systems can use them with the new IP base station.

New Jersey-based Vonage will soon be offering customers VTech's ip8100 5.8Ghz cordless VoIP phone, which, like the Uniden device, integrates the terminal adapter into the base station.

The VTech unit, which comes with two cordless handsets and is expandable to up to six handsets, will be available to customers during the second quarter of this year.

While Vonage anticipates that many customers will continue to use traditional ATAs, company spokesman Mitchell Slepian says that the new integrated devices are "the least obviously an IP phone. It's pretty transparent to consumers."

VoicePulse of North Brunswick, NJ, will be offering customers both the Uniden and VTech cordless VoIP devices. “Our approach is to be able to offer customers as many choices as possible,” says VoicePulse CEO Ravi Sakaria.

BroadVoice, according to President David Epstein, will make its own announcement about a cordless IP base station sometime in the near future. The company's logo appeared in the Panasonic booth during the January 2005 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, alongside Panasonic's KX-TGP100, a VoIP/PSTN hybrid — which will allow both IP and traditional phone calls to be handled by the same device — to be released later this year.

Epstein calls the new phones “a kinder, gentler ATA,” which will increase the momentum of VoIP acceptance. “It's not obvious to consumers how to distribute VoIP,” said Epstein. “Multi-handset cordless systems are a familiar solution. It's another sign that VoIP is getting easier.”