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EarthLink To Offer Wi-Fi Handsets

EarthLink on Tuesday launched a beta test of a Wi-Fi phone the company plans to offer as part of its overall Internet telephony strategy, which includes building wireless municipal networks.

The phone, built by Accton Technology, is part of the Internet service provider's push into the emerging market for making calls over the Internet through a wireless broadband connection either at the home or in areas where Wi-Fi is available. As part of that initiative, EarthLink has been building municipal Wi-Fi networks. The company is working on a project in San Francisco with Google, and has built networks in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Anaheim, Calif., and Milpitas, Calif.

EarthLink is beta testing the Accton phone in Anaheim, and plans to make it generally available in the summer. The phone would be an additional cost to the ISP's Internet telephony service, which costs $14.95 a month for 500 outbound domestic minutes, and $24.95 a month for unlimited time. Inbound minutes are at no charge. The phone, which includes a cradle that acts as a charger and a Wi-Fi router that plugs into a home broadband connection, would cost $100.

EarthLink said Tuesday that the phone and service could be used as a less-expensive replacement for traditional telephone service in the home. In cities where EarthLink provides municipal service, the phone could act as a wireless handset, which could save minutes on a person's cellular phone plan. The phone also could be used to make Internet calls over any Wi-Fi hotspot, such as those found in cafes and airports.

EarthLink believes the number of phone subscribers will grow as it adds more public networks. "What we have is an out-of-the-box, inexpensive alternative to cellular products," David Elgas, director of product management for voice over Wi-Fi at EarthLink, said in an interview.

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