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VoIP Inc: From Tea to Telecom

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

What do you get when you mix a tea importer, a felon, and a hot new technology? Amazingly, a brand new public company that says it's making a run at Vonage in the consumer VOIP space.

VoIP Inc. (OTC: VOII.OB) -- formerly Millennia Tea Masters Inc. -- says it is continuing to expand its voice-over-IP phone service, "eGlobalphone." The company announced yesterday that it is aiming to sign up 2.3 million business and consumer customers by 2007 (see VOIP Inc. Expands in US).

This isn't your average VOIP story. VoIP Inc. is led by a life-long entrepreneur and convicted felon named -- no, not Martha Stewart -- Steven Ivester. It went public on the OTC bulletin board via a reverse merger with the aforementioned tea company, but so far it's only got tiny revenues -- $85,298 in the six months ended June 30.

Ivester is no stranger to entrepreneurship: His previous businesses include All Weather Computers and 21st Century Computers. In 1985 he established a chain of automotive service centers called All State Auto Centers. He's also got a criminal record. In 1982 and 1983, Ivester served more than 11 months for felony robbery, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Ivester bought Millennia Tea Masters in 1998 for the whopping sum of $12,500. He had been running a company called NavigatorPC, which marketed waterproof navigational computers and display systems. Ivester folded the assets of two of his startups -- eGlobalPhone Inc. and VOIP Solutions Inc. -- into Millennia Tea to form VoIP Inc.

VoIP Inc., a holding company, has two other subsidiaries. One is a set-top box and cable modem maker called iMax Solutions Inc., which lists Ivester as its secretary and treasurer, according to filings with the Nevada Secretary of State, where iMax is registered.

The fourth subsidiary is a company VoIP Inc. bought in June. That company, an equipment reseller called DTNet Technologies, was picked up for 2.5 million common shares of VoIP Inc. DTNet, described by VoIP Inc. in its SEC filings as an "industry leader in the design and installation of wireless communication networks," had sales of about $4.7 million in 2003.

This patchwork of companies says it will take on Vonage Holdings Corp. and other VOIP providers in a race to acquire customers before the nation's largest wireline carriers get wise to the game and step up their VOIP activities.

The company, which has 1,000 subscribers so far, is aiming to offer service in "over 200 markets" by the end of the year, according to Ivester.

Part of VoIP Inc.'s strategy is to buy its way into prominence -- with mixed success so far. It attempted a takeover of Dallas-based ISP Internet America Inc., but those talks have stalled, Ivester says, thanks to a "poison pill" plan adopted by the company's shareholders.

Ivester was interested in marketing broadband and VOIP phone services to Internet America's 65,000 customers, not to mention the ISP's cash, which totals more than $1 million. "If you look at the management [of Internet America], it's nothing but a retirement fund for the people running the company," Ivester says, not that he's bitter (see VOIP Chases Dallas ISP and VOIP Plans to Buy Internet America).

Unlike other VOIP providers, VoIP Inc. says its service can be offered on any Internet connection -- even dialup -- because of a patent-pending "call signaling" technology.

The company says another competitive advantage is its customer premises equipment -- an MTA (Multimedia Terminal Adaptor) with a built-in router and QOS bandwidth management.

Its strategy also includes providing a "white label" VOIP service to carriers. It would send a carrier its proprietary media gateways so it could interconnect with local phone networks; then it would provide MTAs to the carrier's customers, as well as managing its Website and customer billing.

But before it becomes a global communicatons juggernaut, VoIP Inc. has a ways to go. It had revenues of $85,298 in the six months ended June 30. The company's net loss for the same period was $430,981. The company's shares fell $0.15 (10%) to 1.35 in late afternoon trading on Tuesday.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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