Up Front: I-WAY PATROL
WIRING THE NET FOR GABFESTS
INTERNET PHONE CALLS ARE the newest lane on the Infobahn. Cheaper than regular phone service, too. And this is no illegal hacker invasion of phone-company circuits. VocalTec in Northvale, N.J., plans to storm the net on Feb. 13 with a $49 piece of software that lets PC owners chat over a microphone with others who are similarly equipped. The only charge is the ordinary Internet access fee, around $15 a month, with no limit on the number or length of calls.
VocalTec's Israel-based engineers stand a good chance of setting key technical standards for what experts believe will be an explosion of Internet voice service over the next few years.
Don't rush to sell your AT&T stock just yet. VocalChat works and sounds more like citizens band radio. Only one person can speak at a time, and you can't chat with people outside the Internet itself. Moreover, you get an annoying delay of a second or two on each side of a VocalChat conversation. Sound quality is rough, yet quite acceptable.
The market for this? Specialty niches where a true phone call would be costly and a low-quality connection is just fine: People playing games, parents talking to children at college, maybe engineers collaborating. International callers could save big money, too.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT WITH RUTH COXETER By John W. Verity