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TekSpek VoIP
VoIP Communications

VoIP Communications

Date issued:

What is VOIP ?

It’s good to talk, but the way in which we get in touch with each other is changing. When once a letter, or a phone call over a shared line were the only ways to keep in touch with friends and relatives, there is now e-mail, instant messaging and text messages. The humble telephone isn’t sitting idly by, however. Telephony is evolving and it is using the Internet to keep up with the competition.

The Technology

VoIP stands for Voice over IP, which immediately gives us a clue as to how VoIP is implemented. Put simply, with VoIP, voice conversations are carried over a network like the Internet to their destination.

So, why hasn’t VoIP been a buzzword until recently? The answer is, for the most part, down to users’ Internet connections. IP doesn’t guarantee the order of data packets traversing a network, so they won’t always arrive at a destination in the same order as they were received (in fact, the packets might not all take the same route across the network. If a VoIP device or application were to presume the packets were in order, a conversation between two people could sound strange, or worse, be unintelligible. So, the packets of data must be reordered once received. However, if the packets of data have taken a long time to get to their destination, by the time enough have been received to restructure and play back, there will be a disconcerting time delay in the conversation, much like the delay you will have seen on television where an interview is taking place over a satellite link. Now that many users have higher bandwidth, lower latency Internet connections, VoIP technology is more feasible for widespread use.

If VoIP is to replace the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) then it needs protocols in place that allow it to be as functional and useable. An increasing number of VoIP implementations utilize the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a protocol designed around the vision that audio, video and all forms of communication will eventually take place over IP based networks like the Internet. This allows features such as dialing numbers, ringing phones and hearing error tones, allowing for a familiarity in the transition from PTSN to VoIP, should it ever happen.

So, VoIP could eventually replace our existing global telephone networks, but why should it? What are the advantages of VoIP?

The big advantage we’re likely to see is cost. Routing a call between two or more phone companies to allow

The Market

The VoIP market is expanding in an interesting way. Some telephone companies and ISPs are offering VoIP services, while new start-up companies are popping up offering their own VoIP services too.

Software based VoIP solutions, several of which are now available on the Internet, are often free to download and use. VoIP calls between users of the same system tend to be without charge. However, what happens when a call needs to be made to a traditional phone, or to somebody on a different network? First of all there’s the technical question: “can it be done?” Some services use proprietary naming and numbering systems that could make calling a different network difficult. However, for the most part it is possible.

So, you can make the call, but what will it cost you? If your VoIP provider is connecting to a landline then they’re going to be charged for it, and that charge will be passed on to you some how. The same is likely if you want to ring somebody on another VoIP provider. You’ll either have classic style per minute or per second rates, dependant on who, where, when and how long for. Alternatively, you might have a broadband style monthly fee with unlimited calls. Quite what service you go for will depend on what your friends and colleagues use, how often you’ll use the service and who you’ll be calling.

The Players

One of the larger players in the U.S. is a company called Vonage, which offers subscribers with a ‘virtual’ telephone number, so that landline and mobile users can ring the VoIP subscriber without issue. Their fees are monthly, limited by certain criteria, beyond which timed rates apply.

Closer to home, BT are starting to deliver VoIP solutions, one example being a phone that acts as a mobile phone until you get within reach of your home’s access point, when it starts using VoIP and your broadband connection.

Software-wise, from the creators of Kazaa there’s Skype, with several million users. Calling other Skype users is free, but calling other phones, or getting a ‘real’ phone number so that they can call you, will cost. Google also recently launched a combined instant messaging and VoIP application, called Google Talk.

Expect your own telephone company and ISP to flaunt their own VoIP services in due course, if they haven’t already. Your telephone company still want your money, and if they don’t move to VoIP before you do, all they’ll get is the line rental for your broadband line.

The key thing to remember with VoIP is that lots of companies want in on it, as it’s a growing market. That means, as a consumer, you have the luxury of choice. Go for what suits you, be it a free software based system, or a monthly subscription and an actual VoIP phone.