VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is fast becoming the darling of the telcoms. Everyone is jumping on the internet phone (or ip phone) bandwagon and the promise of cheap phone service for all.
However, like all emerging technologies, the hype sometimes flingspot outruns the reality, and while VoIP is certainly a promising new technology that will undoubtedly change the way we think of the telephone, there are still a few bugs in the system. It isn’t right or even available for everyone yet, but for many VoIP provides an attractive alternative to traditional phone service.Let’s run down a brief overview of the principal advantages and disadvantages of VoIP.Advantages of VoIP:If you have a broadband connection with either DSL or cable, you are able to use VoIP and avail yourself with the principal advantage of VoIP telephone service – low cost. For a PC-to-PC phone call it can even be no cost to any other computer anywhere in the world (that has VoIP service installed as well, of course). While there is usually a cost to make a PC-to-phone connection, it is usually less than a “traditional” long distance call.Many VoIP service providers will charge a monthly fee allowing you to make unlimited calls within a specified geographical area, with a nominal extra charge for calls outside that set area. For instance, all calls within North America may be included in the monthly fee, with overseas calls costing a bit extra.For the traveler, VoIP provides the advantage of portability. As long as you have access to a broadband connection – and they are becoming more and more ubiquitous with each passing year – you can easily and cheaply keep in touch with family, friends, and business associates. Just pack a headset or ip phone in your bag. Then all you need to do is sign on to your VoIP service and make your call. No worrying about cell phone coverage, roaming, or long distance charges.This portability is available for phone-to-phone VoIP service as well. Your VoIP service provider will provide you with an internet phone number that follows you wherever you go. Even if you’re phone service is based in Seattle and you happen to be in Botswana, you simply plug your ip phone into any broadband connection (perhaps a little more sparse in Botswana) and make your call, just as if you were sitting on your couch in Seattle. IP phones are light and very portable, just like carrying a cell phone, and just try to call home from Botswana on your cell phone!Many of the same features that you’ve come to expect as standard with your traditional and cell phone service is available with VoIP service. Services like call forwarding, call waiting, voicemail, caller ID, three-way calling and more are available through your ip phone, usually at no extra charge. You can also send data, as you would expect with a broadband internet connection, like pictures and documents, all while talking on the phone.Disadvantages of VoIP:What a great thing VoIP is! Why would anyone still be using traditional phone service? Well, for one thing, most people still don’t have a broadband connection, though that number is steadily decreasing. And there are other problems yet with VoIP.Two of the biggest problems are power interruptions and emergency calls.When your power goes out, you can still pick up your “normal” phone to call the power company to tell them your power just went out. This is because a traditional phone is powered by the phone line. This isn’t the case with an ip phone. If the power goes out, then there is nothing to power your internet connection or your ip phone. A workaround is to use battery backups or power generators to keep you VoIP service powered, but that is certainly more of a hassle than just picking up your phone and having it externally powered.An even more serious concern is that of emergency 911 calls. With a traditional phone, a 911 call is quickly traced to its origin and routed to the nearest call center where the operator will be able to see your location on his or her computer screen. This is not the case with VoIP. It is not possible to determine where a VoIP call is originating from, making the use of VoIP for emergency calls less than ideal. To solve this problem, there is an emerging standard known as “e911” that should one day satisfactorily address this issue.There are also issues with VoIP sound quality and reliability. Just like any data sent over the internet, it is sent through the network scrambled into “packets”. Email and other documents sent over the internet are easily “reassembled” at the other end for a seamless transmission. Due to the real-time nature of voice communication, this reassembly process becomes more of a problem with VoIP. In order to minimize the delay of the voice connection, some data packets may occasionally need to be “dropped” if they don’t arrive in time, resulting in short periods of silence in the audio stream.The amount of dropped data depends on the distance and speed of the connection. High traffic networks may experience more dropouts, especially at times of peak usage. One workaround that service providers can use is to create dedicated data paths for audio transmission.Given the growth and increasing popularity of VoIP, it seems that all these disadvantages will be overcome in time. Now is the time that the major service providers – isp’s and telcoms – are using their formidable resources to work through the VoIP bugs. It is estimated that as soon as 2007 most of the kinks will be ironed out and VoIP should receive widespread consumer acceptance.Stay tuned! Or call me on my ip phone!