Free or low-cost, long-distance alternatives

Analog phone -- moving towards extinction? Many organizations and individuals are seeking to lower their communication costs, especially with the aim of holding down the use of long-distance phone calls. Although e-mail and text messaging is cheap and effective, it can never substitute for the human voice (transmitted over copper wire or fiber cable). Now in 2003, we are seeing major changes in voice communications -- perhaps, the most important in 100 years. Hardware and software is now freely available to use the Internet as the primary channel for communications.

Other sources: Jeff Pulver's Blog ::: Werblog ::: Carl Ford ::: Aswath Rao ::: Isen.blog ::: Telepocalypse ::: James Seng ::: Another blog is SIPThat.

Voxilla is an e-zine/blog that specializs in communications.

See this PCMagazine summary of recent online tools, Videoconferencing (December 9, 2003), including Yahoo and MS Messengers, iChat, VidiTel ($35 a month), Vibe Phone, iSpQ VideoChat, SightSpeed Video ($30 a month)

Voice Communications

Free VoIP

Requires a minimum bandiwdth of 56 kbps. Also need a microphone, speakers or headset ($30-100 or more). User may have to provide an Ethernet port to plug in a special phone. Usually, both sides of a conversation have to be on the same service. These are adaptions of what VoIP services calls softphones - the work is done by a software application that piggybacks on a PC for computing power, and interface with with input (mike, dialing) and audio (speaker or headphones).

The best route to go is a USB headseat, like the Plantronics or Logitech.

Voice over Internet Protocol

These usually require a IP phone or adapter and a high-speed connection (DSL, cable modem, T1).

Integrated VoIP Solutions

Resources

Video

Once a user has been able to establish a voice connection, it is relatively simple to add on video as a value-added service so we are including the options below as options. These services require a webcam or better.

Webcams

Requires a minimum bandwidth of 64 kbps (technically feasible over a dialup, but not recommended)

Hybrid products and services

Requires a minimum bandwidth of 128 kbps

Videoconferencing

Requires a minimum bandwidth of 256 kbps. These products are usually based on H.323/SIP and provides for better quality voice and video over an IP network. Usually requires some network admin support so not easy for a small office.

Pros and Con