With agencies taking on projects all over the world, PR executives may want to look to Internet telephone as a way to talk to clients on the other side of the world for the price of a local call. That is the promise of "telephony," which will use the Internet rather than the telephone network. Supporters of Internet telephones, also known as Net phones and Web phones, believe they will transform global communications for all companies, but especially communications firms. Internet users -estimated at 50 million people worldwide -access the network by making a local telephone call from their PC modem to an Internet service provider. "The crux of PR is communications so using the newest technologies such as telephony is very important," said Tony Duerinck, marketing development manager of Dialogic, a New Jersey-based computer telephony company. "Companies that are multi-national or that have clients all over the world are sitting up and listening about this new technology." The Internet could be used for many other telephony services --including faxing, paging, video-conferencing, collaborative computing, business-to-business applications and electronic commerce. Although an Internet user may be accessing data from a computer the other side of the world, he or she pays only local call rates. This is what lies behind the economics of Internet-based telephony. To use an Internet phone you need: a PC, telephony software, microphone, speakers and a plug-in computer card that converts speech to data, and vice versa. Companies marketing Internet phone software include Quarterdeck, Televox, DigiPhone Europe, Netspeak and VocalTec. Prices range from free to $60. To make an Internet telephone call, two people need to have phone software stored on their PCs and to arrange to make a call at a pre-set time. The caller clicks an on-screen icon and the recipient sees a message on the PC screen or hears a sound through the computer speakers. Internet phones can offer advanced features such as call screening, but they do not have the same sound quality as a fixed-line phone. Speech is compressed and suffers from a time delay - the effect is of having a conversation over a satellite link. In many cases, only one person can talk at a time. While Internet phones are still new, experts are excited about the technology. "Internet telephony will open up the way for online shopping and banking, credit card verification and collaborative communications. People will be able to talk and work together on the same computer screen via the Net," said Scott Coleman, general manager at Syntellect, a U.S. interactive voice company in Atlanta. (Dialogic, 201/993-3030; Syntellect 770/668-1170) FAST FACT: The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates there were 500,000 Internet phone users at the end of 1995, with the market worth about $3.5 million. IDC said the number of users could reach $16 million by the end of 1999, with a market value of $560 million.

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