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AT&T offers software to ease international direct dialing

AT&T, the major American telecommunications firm, has introduced a new service that may be of help to people who need to make an international telephone call to go online or send a fax. The service works with special dialing software that can be downloaded from AT&T’s Web site and is used in conjunction with an AT&T corporate telephone charge card. The system can be used to dial to the United States from the country your are in, and also to complete calls between most other pairs of countries in the world.

While local phone numbers available from roaming Internet access services offer less expensive means to connect to the Internet, there are times when it’s necessary to dial internationally with your computer. Whether you are sending a fax or connecting directly with you company’s local area network, sometimes an international call is simply unavoidable.

It is in these cases that AT&T’s worldwide network of local numbers can be convenient. It can also save you a bundle of money versus the expense of paying a hotel for use of its phone for an international call.

The software

For voice calls, AT&T’s international service is really quite easy. You make a local phone call to an AT&T access number, dial in the number you are dialing, then key in your AT&T telephone calling card number. While this is simple for a person, the pauses and long string of numbers to dial are a bit more complex for a laptop computer.

This is where AT&T’s Laptop Access Software is designed to help. The access software stores all the local access numbers in use around the world and will dial them automatically. It can also store the number of your AT&T calling card, or the card number of your MasterCard, American Express or Diners Club card number, which can also be used with AT&T’s network.

Once AT&T’s software is loaded, it intercepts your connection before your modem has a chance to dial. The software then presents you with a number of options for completing your call using AT&T’s network. One option is designed for use with human operators, a second for use with automated systems.

Benefits

Use of AT&T’s system can save you money compared to dialing direct from hotels, a savings that can be as large as 50-80 percent, according to figures provided by AT&T. The software also provides an easy way to use calling cards in making your calls. It’s also convenient that an updated list of international access codes can also be downloaded periodically from AT&T’s Web site, as these numbers have been known to change rapidly in the past.

Another benefit comes in the form of a joint marketing agreement that AT&T has with TeleAdapt, a major seller of adapters and laptop accessories used when going online while traveling abroad. The arrangement entitles AT&T customers to a 20 percent discount on all TeleAdapt telephone line and power plug adapters.

The Laptop Access Software’s help file is also a valuable resource. It contains a large amount of information provided by TeleAdapt that can come in handy if you should have difficulty making a connection while abroad.

Drawbacks

While AT&T’s system is good to have and to use in specific circumstances, it shouldn’t be considered your first choice in making an international connection. This is because of its cost. Calling card-billed international calls over the AT&T network still run you over US$1 a minute, according to AT&T. If you are simply accessing the Internet, use of a service such as EUnet Traveller can get the cost down as low as $.12 a minute (see related article). The same is true for the iPass and GRIC networks.

If you absolutely have to make an international call to make your connection, you should also consider the use of callback systems. They are more expensive than roaming Internet access services, but still much less expensive than AT&T.

Also, use caution when loading up the AT&T software. It seeks to add itself to the group of programs that run whenever your system is booted up. When this is happens, the AT&T software will intercept every connection you initiate with your computer, even local calls. It seems that AT&T has copied a few tricks from Microsoft’s playbook and it is annoying at best. At worst it is a real waste of your time. So when the setup routine asks: "Do you wish to place AT&T Laptop Access Software in your Startup Group?" Just say ‘NO.’ You can still run the software when you need to use it, but it won’t impose itself upon you.

Contact:

Download the AT&T software from the company’s Web site at: http://www.att.com/business_traveler. The software is about 1.2 Megabits when compressed for downloading. The software is also available on diskette for a small charge (in the US call 888/428-8527). To apply for an AT&T calling card in the US, call 800/667-6965.

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