VoIP Service is one of the hottest technologies on the internet today. And, unlike so many other internet services, VoIP service - in place of a standard telephone service - actually provides real value to the user.
So what exactly is Voice over IP (VoIP)?
Voice over Internet Protocol. Simply the ability to transmit Voice traffic (an analog conversation) over the internet (a packet based protocol or data conduit). This is done much the way music is digitized when converted to MP3.
You have probably heard of Voice over IP or VoIP before, and maybe even used it, but check your knowledge against this list of 9 need to know facts:
VoIP is an exciting new technology, but it's not yet perfected Skype, and now Google Talk, are the easiest ways to get started Some VoIP Service companies that are here today will be gone tomorrow A VoIP phone is only as reliable as your broadband internet connection You don't want to rely on a VoIP phone line for 911! VoIP phone service does not carry the same legal protections as a landline Low introductory prices for VoIP service will likely increase later, maybe a lot Long distance is getting cheaper all the time, removing some incentive for VoIP VoIP is the future, and merits looking into
VoIP is exciting, but not perfect
We all love something for nothing, but have you ever heard the phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch?" Sure you have. With Voice over IP, keep in mind that it is a relatively new and developing technology, and the "price" can be lack of quality.
The internet is designed to pass data packets. The ability to resend packets that are lost in transmission is built in to the way the internet works. This works great with data packets - keep resending until the recipient gets it or a predetermined timeout factor.
If a packet is lost with voice, however, how does the person speaking know to stop talking until the packet arrives at the other end? Getting the picture? Think early days of cell phones (depending on where you're at you might be thinking of cell phones today!).
Anyone who has used VoIP, and you probably have been on the receiving end of a VoIP call whether you knew it or not, knows that drop outs and dropped calls do happen. Many businesses are beginning to use VoIP to save money on long distance. Next time you receive a call from a business and the line quality "waffles" a bit, you are probably on a VoIP call.
Skype (or Google Talk) is a must for anyone interested in VoIP
You simply MUST checkout this technology. It primarily turns your computer, with a microphone and speakers (preferably a headset), into a telephone. When you login to Skype, Skype servers can then connect others to you automatically when they "dial" your username.
You can call any other Skype user, who is online, for free. With inexpensive minute packages, you can call any phone number in the world.
WIFI enabled cell phones even have the ability to make skype phone calls right from the phone's menu. This saves paid minutes for other calls and allows international calling to be free.
I know several businesses with employees scattered around the world who keep everyone in touch via free skype calls.
What VoIP companies will be around for the long haul?
Not all VoIP companies are like Vonage, and Vonage is... well, have you noticed that the Vonage stock IPO (initial public offering) was less than well received, with the price of the stock quickly falling 50% and more?
Vonage is probably the best known VoIP company, and if you prowl the internet chat rooms and newsgroups you will see an awful lot of complaints about dropped calls and other quality and service issues. The company may ultimately get the kinks worked out and improve their reputation, but only time will tell.
Many other VoIP companies may not last very long. Don't you kind of wonder about a business that pays up to $200 for a residential VoIP Service referral, as long as the referral stays a $20/month customer for at least two months? I know of one such company. Scary.
Not a big deal if you are just playing around with VoIP on a second phone line and trying to save a little on long distance. But what happens to number portability when the company that has your number no longer answers their phone?
Reliability of the Internet
With Voice over IP, don't forget what IP stands for - Internet Protocol. Is your internet service ever down, or sloooow? Guess what that does to your VoIP service; that's right, what service!
Even if you have the most reliable ISP or Internet Service Provider, the VoIP call needs to get to the other end after being properly routed everywhere in between. If any part of the path fails and cannot quickly redirect, your call is either dropped or nonexistent in the first place.
In order for VoIP service to work well, the entire network must support something known as QoS, which stands for Quality of Service. Problem is, not every path on the internet supports QoS, at least not yet.
Just like a chain, a Voice over IP phone call is only as good as its weakest link.
And that leads right into the next point..
Do NOT rely on a VoIP phone line for 911
Now I know there are those of you who are young, single and carefree who maybe have never had to call 911 in your life and don't expect to have to.
But it's not just seniors and families with children who have medical emergencies, whether it be for someone who lives in that residence or a visitor.
What about fire? What if you have to call the Police?
Do you ever want to pick up the phone to dial 911 and not get an immediate dial tone? Do you ever want to have to redial because the call was dropped? Do you ever want to get routed to the wrong 911 dispatcher? Or have the dispatcher not get your correct address on their screen?
Emergency 911 service is yet to be available with many Voice over IP services in most areas of the United States. Some providers in fact will only let you make OUTBOUND calls from your home because of this (they want you to keep a land line for now).
For those where it does work it depends on the correct data being entered in their master database somewhere and for the routing algorithms to work correctly for your call to get to the correct 911 emergency call center.
Traditional landlines have a variety of legal protections, but not VoIP phone service
With the current attitude of the US Government to keep chipping away at the Consitution in the name of anti-terrorism, I don't expect that many, if any, legal protections will be extended to VoIP. Certainly none that will protect you from Uncle Sam that's for sure. And YES, VoIP calls can be traced, even over encrypted connections!
Don't be sucked in by low introductory rates
We all know how it works. 3, 6, 12 months at a low price, then huge increase once they've got you hooked. Companies like Vonage started out with rates around $50/month. Now they offer intro rates of $20 - $30/month.
You know where they want to go with those rates. Up. The higher the better for them. Quite possibly back toward $50/month.
The only thing that will prevent that from happening is competition. But in order for competition to keep prices down, the customer, that's you, have to be willing to endure the inconvenience of jumping ship. That's a task certain to be more painful if you try to take your phone number with you.
Can you count on the VoIP service provider to make it easy for you to switch to one of their competitors? Can you spell "Busy Signal"? Sure you can. You've been there before. It's not like being able to walk in the office of your local phone company where you can speak to someone in person!.
And for $20 - $50/month, you can buy a lot of long distance these days; which leads me to the next item..
Long distance just keeps getting cheaper
If your primary reason for giving up the quality and reliability of a land line is to get free long distance, your reason is getting smaller every day.
Why? Long distance rates are coming down. Between competition and the fact that telecommunications companies are themselves using Voice over IP to route long distance traffic. The difference, though, is that telecoms use dedicated networks with high dollar equipment to eliminate the dropped calls and to keep the quality of the call in line with what their customers expect.
Many traditional phone customers are being offered unlimited calling packages now. And who doesn't have some spare minutes on their cell phone package to use for a long distance call now and then? The attractiveness of free calling via a VoIP service is diminishing daily.
Conclusion: The future of VoIP
Bottom line? Voice over IP is here to stay. It is the future. For those who feel like being a pioneer, new technology can be fun. Just remember what can happen to pioneers, they get arrows in their back!
If you fancy the latest in technology, take Voice over IP for a test drive, I am.
But when I have a really important call, or I don't want to make a bad impression or I'm calling someone older who doesn't hear so well any more - I pick up a land line, dial 1+ the number and show some respect for the person on the other end of the line.
For more information about Voice over IP and other Windows and Computer issues, visit the author's website at http://www.FreeComputerConsultant.com
Roger DeReu has been working with PC's, as a programmer, IT specialist and independent consultant, since 1984. He currently consults primarily with small and medium sized businesses in the Midwest. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional and Small Business Specialist. The FreeComputerConsultant website was originally created to be a free resource for the employees of his clients to have access to his knowledge for benefit of their home PC's.
Roger's daily computer blog can be found at http://FreeComputerConsultant.WordPress.com
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