Toying with VOIP: Internet Voice

June 18 2007

If you can send spreadsheets, .pdfs, pictures and instant messages over the Internet, why not voice files?

That's the brainchild behind VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), a new telephone technology that sends voice data over data networks rather than traditional commercial phone lines.

With VoIP, your voice is encoded into a stream of digital information and crosses the Net like any other data. At its destination, the data is converted back into sound waves and received just like a "normal" call. If you use VoIP and the party you're calling doesn't, the call "breaks out" from the Net and travels its last leg on the regular phone system.

Like most new technologies, VoIP has gone through a "shake-down" period while problems with quality were resolved. Some kinks remain, but performance now rivals traditional voice.

The initial sales pitch for VoIP is what you might expect: lower cost. Some providers offer unlimited calling for a low flat fee and/or reduced rates for long-distance and international calls.

For businesses, though, the real benefit lies in the efficiencies of data-based telephony. For example, you can have voice messages dumped into your e-mailbox as attachments, or forward them to someone else at a remote site. For multi-site businesses, VoIP makes it possible to keep everyone's messaging on one system instead of requiring separate systems for each location and greatly speeds office moves.

Equipment for basic VoIP is simple enough: adapters for your traditional hand- or headset run in the $100 range, or may be included with your VoIP service contract. You also need available bandwidth on a fast connection such as a DSL or cable-modem line.

While most businesses will be slow to rip out their land-lines altogether, VoIP is a technology to watch.