August 11, 2004


Why the Web may replace your phone: On the fringe for more than a decade, cheap, flexible Internet-based phone service is poised to take off. (Gregory M. Lamb, 8/12/04, CS Monitor)

VoIP. Pronounced "voip," it sounds as silly as it looks. But in the world of telecommunications, it's becoming a serious business that could change the way you make a phone call.

Rather than depending on telephone lines, VoIP - or Voice over Internet Protocol - would allow you to use the Web. It might pave the way for a new, more flexible wireless service. And it's cheap: You could reach Nanjing for the price of calling next door.

It's "probably the most significant paradigm shift in the entire history of modern communications, since the invention of the telephone," Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said earlier this year. [...]

The attractions of VoIP are obvious: much lower cost and myriad features that enable users to filter, block, save, and redirect incoming calls. Proponents argue that some of the traditional drawbacks - voice quality, reliability, and the inability of a 911 operator to track a caller's location - are quickly fading.

By weaving VoIP with another hot technology - Wi-Fi - users may soon be carrying it in their pocket or purse in the form of a dual-system handset, a portable phone that would leap seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi connections as it chooses the best signal or lowest cost.

Richard Tworek is a believer in VoIP, both at home and at work. For $20 a month ("I'm a cheap guy," he says) he uses a VoIP service to talk by phone for unlimited minutes throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. He often calls his son in the Air Force, who's stationed in Europe. The voice quality is "fantastic," he says, though he concedes he's kept his conventional phone line as a backup.

Periods of great technological innovation and open trade place relentless downward pressure on prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2004 6:33 PM

In tests conducted for...

I can't lay my hands on the article, but somebody recently tested six VoIP providers against landlines and cell phones, in a blind study.
The testers found that the call quality of all VoIP providers was equal to a travelling cell phone, and one provider's service even scored higher in sound quality than a landline.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 11, 2004 7:04 PM

The problem with VoIP is that IP networks are not nearly as reliable as current voice networks. Our cable modem experiences outages of several minutes to most of an hour on a weekly basis. The corporate HQ (with thousands of employees) recently suffered a router meltdown which competely disconnected it from the outside because all of the phones were VoIP. You'd also need a big shift in how currently ISPs provide service - in particular, if you don't pay the bill they must still provide some level of access, if only enough for you to call them to get service restored.

I think the dual cell-phone/VoIP scenario is the most likely. At least then you can use the cell phone if your IP connection is down.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 11, 2004 7:41 PM