You have a telephone, right? You have a computer, right? You want to save money, right? BAM, you are a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) candidate.
It is inevitable that VOIP will replace traditional telephone service at some point. The only question is when should you jump in?
VOIP is quickly becoming more reliable and receiving wider acceptance. In fact, phone companies are already taking advantage of the technology to provide cheaper long distance rates. Like any emerging technology, however, there are kinks in the system that are still being worked out.
VOIP has many advantages over regular phone service. One primary advantage is its low cost. If you have a fast Internet connection (DSL or cable), you can make PC-to-PC phone calls anywhere in the world FREE. PC-to-phone connections usually have a charge, but probably still cheaper than regular phone service.
You can sign up with a VOIP service provider for a monthly fee and get unlimited calls within a specified geographic area. For example, some VOIP services in the United States allow connections anywhere in North America for no extra charge. International calls are charged at a modest rate.
Another advantage is its portability. You can make and receive phone calls wherever there is a broadband connection by simply signing in to your VOIP account. This makes VOIP as convenient as e-mail. When you're traveling, you simply pack a headset or Internet phone; then you can talk to family or colleagues for next to nothing.
Phone-to-phone VOIP is also portable. Internet phones are small and light enough to take anywhere. When you sign up with a VOIP service provider, the Internet phone or adaptor used by that service is assigned a unique number. This 'phone number' remains valid, even if your VOIP service is in Los Angeles and you're connected to the Internet in London. When plugged into a broadband connection, anywhere in the world, you can make and receive calls as though you were at home .
Features like call forwarding, call waiting, voicemail, caller ID and 3way-calling, are included with Internet telephone at no extra charge. While you're talking on the phone, you can send pictures and documents at the same time.
There are a few glitches that still interfere with the technology's broad acceptance by the public. Lack of continuous service during power outages and emergency calling are the 2 biggest hurdles.
Conventional phone service continues by the current supplied through the phone lineduring a blackout. This isn't possible with Internet phones. When the power goes, there goes VOIP service. Battery backups and power generators that provide electricity are the current solutions to this problem.
A major concern involves emergency 911 calls. For the most part, VOIP services aren't useful in emergencies. Traditional phone equipment can trace the locations of calls. Emergency calls are diverted to the nearest call center where the operator can identify your location, in the event you can't talk. With VOIP, there is no way currently to determine where Internet calls are originating. There is an emerging standard called e911 however, which is attempting to solve this limitation.
VOIP also has sound quality and reliability problems. Data sent across the Internet usually arrives at its destination scrambled. E-mail and documents can be reassembled in the correct order when it arrives. Voice data also arrives scrambled, but it's more complicated because of the real-time nature of VOIP. Some data packets may have to be dropped when they don't arrive in time, in order to make voice connections with the least delay. This can cause brief silences in the audio stream.
Distance and speed of the connection determine the amount of data lost. Some networks receive more traffic and thus are more likely to cause audio dropouts. One way to provide high quality audio connections is to create dedicated data paths.
With the incredible amount of work dedicated to VOIP, these disadvantages will no doubt be resolved withinin the next 2 years. It is expected that by then VOIP will have widespread consumer acceptance.