Magazine article Communication World

What's Not to Love about VoIP? New Technologies Are Pushing the Limits of Mobility

Magazine article Communication World

What's Not to Love about VoIP? New Technologies Are Pushing the Limits of Mobility

Article excerpt

If you haven't heard the buzz about how some people have made free international phone calls from a Lufthansa flight using their laptops, put your seat back into an upright position and prepare for the future in voice and video communications. "Skyping"--named after Skype, one of the better known Internet-based phone services--is getting the same play as texting and instant messaging (IM), the latest habits of successful, technologically savvy communicators.

Skype and its cohorts make free PC-to-PC phone calls a breeze. These calls, known in tech-speak as VoIP (pronounced vo-eep, which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol), aren't exactly a new phenomenon. Companies were squeezing voice "packets" through analog phone lines as far back as the late 1990s. Net2Phone was one of those companies, and Arizona-based Inter-Tel was another. But until recently, the voice quality of these services was poor, largely because most people were using dial-up Internet connections. The steep drop in the cost of broadband service has radically changed that; in the U.S., for example, 53 percent of home Internet users have switched to broadband.

101 uses

There are two markets for VoIP: The home market is served by companies such as Skype and Vonage, while the enterprise market--one that goes after the telephony and data needs of large corporations--is dominated by Cisco, Avaya and Nortel. Indeed, the home market gets most of the buzz because of everyone's love affair with free international calls and IP phones. But don't ignore the enterprise solutions rolling out, because the tipping point of communications is a fancy-schmancy IP phone.

"We are at the point where we can take advantage of the mature VoIP technology," says Manoj Fernando [no relation to the author], co-founder and executive vice president of business development at LiteScape Technologies Inc., a VoIP company. "We develop the applications that run on top of these IP phones, and deliver the other 101 uses of a phone you never thought possible." What exactly are these uses? Imagine getting your phone to interact with desktop calendars and directories on your PC, or delivering a PowerPoint presentation to a phone (see "Dialing In to the Future," left).

The best way to think about VoIP is that it does not simply duplicate an existing phone service; instead, it opens up newer communication options. Take mobility. A mobile worker could plug the phone in to the company network whether she is in Boston or Bangladesh, and the system would recognize her profile and route calls to her. How so? The IP phone, assigned an IP address just like computers on a network, is a personal appliance, not a communal one. As Avaya describes it, in the old world of telephony, we always called a location; today we can make a phone call to a device. Don't want to carry your phone with you? No problem. The alternative, called a soft phone, allows a VoIP subscriber to pull up a virtual phone on a laptop, punch in the numbers and make the same call using the computer's speakers and microphone.

Mobility, security, commerce

IP phones introduce many more features than were possible through the old circuit-switched phone networks. Vendors such as Inter-Tel provide services that can track abandoned phone calls and deliver advanced features such as biometric speech verification. …

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