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VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)


May 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Sending messages over the Internet is no big deal – we have been doing that for years with email. Using your computer as a telephone was possible even before that, with any computer that had a modem….

Sending messages over the Internet is no big deal – we have been doing that for years with email. Using your computer as a telephone was possible even before that, with any computer that had a modem. Just set up one of the dialer programs and you could shout at your friends through your computer. Not elegant but geek-cool. After that came Internet telephony — considerably cheaper or even free, but the quality was in the “you get what you pay for” category. It was somewhat like using a walkie-talkie with bad reception, but even more geek-cool as you were bypassing the phone companies to make calls through the Internet. The quality issues have now been resolved with VoIP…

The public telephone system has been in service for over a century and it has gone from a scratchy, patchy service to one that allows you to talk to people in Europe as if they were next door. The clarity is incredible, with that annoying hiss from years before non-existent, even on overseas calls. The alternative of Internet telephony could not compete. The quality was like bad AM radio, you could only reach others with similar software packages and you were still left shouting into your computer. Why couldn’t the Internet handle a simple voice-only phone call, when (with a broadband connection) you can watch video or listen to a radio station? The reason is that the Internet is typically a one-way affair. Traffic comes in, a response goes out — unlike a conventional telephone line, in which traffic is continuous in both directions. If they want, two people can talk to each other continuously and simultaneously, rather like my Aunt Bertha talking to her friends. This is changed now with Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. The term VoIP encompasses both the older software-based Internet telephony and the newer hardware-based system.

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VoIP offers virtually all the features of the conventional phone system, with features not possible in the regular system. Just as cell phones untethered us from the landline, VoIP releases us from the limitations of the conventional phone network.

* Prices are lower both for packages and for extra minutes.

* You can add extra lines for more handling capacity.

* Add numbers in remote area codes — that means that for a few extra dollars, your customers in Montreal can call your Vancouver office using a 514 area code.

* You can carry your phone number with you. Take your equipment with you and use it as you would in your office, anywhere there is a broadband connection. This is handy for a business trip to Hong Kong, or if you change locations within your home city.

* Unlike the old Internet telephony, you can exchange calls with any other number — you are not limited to other subscribers in the same service, but can call and receive calls as you would with a conventional line.

* The quality is quite comparable to a landline and superior to a cell phone.

* Services that are extras on conventional phones are included in VoIP. These include caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding and voicemail, along with many others.

* Your voicemail can be forwarded to your email account and treated like any other attachment.

* Some providers offer Wi-Fi enabled phones, which will work anywhere there is a wireless access point.

So what are the disadvantages? If this just sounds too good to be true, do not be deceived. It is very good, but there are a few drawbacks:

* It is dependent upon a broadband connection, which is dependent upon power. If your power or connection goes out, so does your phone service.

* If your broadband connection is spotty, so will be your phone calls.

* Some providers offer 411 (directory service), some do not. White pages listings and 911 service are not yet available.

* There might be compatibility problems with other broadband-based services, such as security systems or satellite decoders.

* Some systems require significant installation, and all of them can require occasional restarting.

Despite the concerns with any new system, particularly when you are replacing a known, very reliable incumbent, several large companies are going for VoIP. These include Boeing, Dow, Ford and several government groups — the benefits appear to outweigh the risks for these corporations.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com


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