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Ford opts for Internet-based phones to save money

By Nick Bunkley and Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

DEARBORN - Ford Motor Co. will replace 50,000 telephones in its headquarters and other facilities in southeast Michigan with Internet-based phones in a deal expected to save money, improve efficiency and speed adoption of the technology by other companies.

Ford signed a contract with SBC Communications Inc. for what the companies say is one of the nation's largest deployments of a voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP, telephony system.

The system will allow workers to receive voice mail as e-mail attachments, have e-mail read to them over the phone and take their phone - and phone number - anywhere with an Internet connection. Ford spokeswoman Valerie Rosnik said the technology also will ease the transition if an employee changes jobs.

"I went from product development to IT," Rosnik said. "I would have been able to keep my phone, my phone number, my Rolodex."

Rosnik declined to say how much money the automaker will save. Ford has tested the system for 18 months and implementation will be complete within three years.

Tom Archer, SBC's head of global sales, said Ford's conversion could convince other companies to adopt the technology .

VoIP, which initially suffered from poor quality, is beginning to gain greater acceptance now that service is comparable to standard phone lines. AT&T no longer markets traditional local phone service in favor of VoIP.

Helen McGrath, AT&T's vice president of product management for VoIP, is in Troy this morning explaining the benefits of VoIP to local executives.

A survey to be released by AT&T today found that 21 percent of businesses are using or testing VoIP and 40 percent plan to implement it.
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