*VOIP Technology
*Sabre Moves Watched

By: J.L. Erickson

As the quality of Internet telephone services continues to improve, the trend and competition among providers offers agencies and agents a growing number of options to maximize efficiencies and minimize costs.

Eric Maryanov, president and founder of Los Angeles-based All- Travel, says his agency uses VoIP Voice over Internet Protocol service for some of its remote, home-based agents.

“It allows us to keep a central phone number for consumers for our offices and transfer calls to remote home-based agents,” he said. “We can transfer quickly, without any delays or switches and the customer has no clue they’re being transferred. I believe in bricks and mortar, but it also gives us a good tool and flexibility.”

A variety of companies offer the service with a broad range of calling plans and options, some offering savings of up to 40 percent off the monthly costs of traditional land-line services.

Among providers are,,,,, Broad,, and And new providers continue to enter the market, including One IP Voice (, a subsidiary of Farmstead Telephone Group.

Serving the small- to medium-business market, the firm officially rolled out national service in January, using 9,000 independent business distribution partners for its private-IP-network-based service. The service can be managed down to the desktop and offers a variety of customized calling plans, including unlimited local and long-distance plans for heavy users.

Nolan Burris, founder of Visionistics, told attendees at a recent TRAMS conference in Las Vegas that providers have continued to improve and expand their services. Costs are competitive, with most services such as call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID, star codes, voice mail integrated with e-mail and three-way calling included in the monthly billing price.

Burris noted home office or residential service plans can start as low as $14.99 a month, ranging up to $24.99 a month with unlimited long distance.

While the quality is continuing to improve significantly, Burris noted that because VoIP compresses and transmits a large amount of data, the process can take a bit longer than traditional land-line calls.

VoIP quality also is only as good as the Internet connection and its quality of service, and some voice distortion can be found with low-end or free systems.

Experts say it pays to thoroughly research the growing field of providers to ensure the best quality and content. This is important as new VoIP providers continue to enter the field, including software firms such as Lycos, Yahoo and AOL now competing with companies like Vonage, which provides hardware to connect land-line phones to broadband Internet.

Sabre Travel Network’s announcement last month that it would launch an optional program Aug. 1 to provide agents guaranteed access to full content and protection from service fees that may be levied by carriers in the program has generated widespread speculation that it could signal the first of a variety of programs in the GDS industry that could effectively lower agent incentives.

While Sabre said its Efficient Access Solution is designed to protect against growing fragmentation of travel distribution, the program does include pricing changes. Sabre executives have not disclosed details of program pricing but industry observers have said it could be as much as 80 cents per segment.

Sabre said carriers in the program will receive a discounted booking fee for reservations made by agencies enrolled in the program and, in turn, will guarantee travel agencies in the program key benefits and protections. Officials said the program provides for continuing agency incentives but noted agencies will agree to certain financial terms.

Carriers in the program with a minimum five-year commitment include Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways, Northwest Airlines and AirTran Airways.

“Sabre worked hard to develop a multilateral approach that balances the needs of all industry players,” said Chris Kroeger, Sabre Travel Network senior vice president, North America. “Our goal has always been to provide agents a one-stop shop for full travel content while accommodating the cost pressures experienced by airlines in today’s market. Full content is just the foundation, however. What we are announcing today is a clear pathway to new end-to-end suites tailored specifically to the needs of both the corporate and leisure travel community.”

So far, there has been no public word by airlines that they are seeking service fees, but Sabre’s move comes as traditional GDS face growing economic pressure from new distribution entrants and airline contract renegotiations.

While Galileo acknowledged the industry pressure, it criticized the move by Sabre, noting that agencies that use its platform will continue to have full access to airline content. Still, it noted that it also is weighing alternatives that would ensure continued access to full content without airline service fees.

Experts said how Sabre’s move ultimately affects agencies will play out over the next several months, although some agencies already are moving toward the program.

“The assurance of full content for the long term is in the best interests of our customers, and doing so through an economic contribution without implementing additional systems throughout our organization is certainly preferable,” said Bob Chaiken, chief operating officer of Wisconsin-based Adelman Travel Group. “Fragmentation and service fees from the airlines would significantly increase costs and impair our ability to provide the high level of service our customers expect.”