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Consumer Usability Seen As Key To VoIP's Success

SAN FRANCISCO — Convenience is seen as the key to consumer acceptance of voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology as rival industries seek to deliver new types of content over the emerging communications technology.

A panel of industry executives at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's show here this week agreed that the technology behind VoIP is meaningless unless companies make it possible for customers to use and enjoy it. The executives also maintained that providing products that customers were comfortable using was their chief goal, regardless of the protocol at work.

"VoIP has a lot of mystique, but it's just a protocol. It's just a standard," said Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, which rolled out VoIP service in 2004.

"The customer does not need to know how VoIP works," added Len Lauer, president and chief operating officer of Sprint Corp. "They just want their phones to work." Lauer said Sprint is working with cable companies and others to study ways to bring the "convergence experience" to customers.

Lauer said Sprint maintains a usability lab where the company researches customers' ability to use products.

"Usability of products is a huge challenge for this industry," agreed James Robbins, president and CEO of Cox Communications.

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