Free or low-cost, long-distance alternatives
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)
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.
FDW - Free World Dialup
Pulver's free voice service
PulverInnovations offers a variety of VoIP products that make a Can use a Grandstream IP Phone $65 each
A service bought to you by the same people as KaZaa. Has Spanish, French and Portuguese versions
Why VoIP is music to Kazaa's ear
Requires the purchase of 2 SIP phones or adapters
Internet "Bad Boy" Michael Robertson on the Future of Phones
Instant Messenger clients
Yahoo Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. ICQ now has video chat. AIM (standalone version) seems to be lagging. Both ICQ and AIM were prohibited from offering voice services following the AOL/TimeWarner merger; the restriction was recently lifted. The new AOL 9 version includes a video/voice option, but still too early to say how it works. There may also be several open-source products that are available, but require computer savvy to use.
Microsoft is now emphasizing IM, rather than Netmeeting for webcamming and voice conversations. However, you need a server to host the directory and that can be a limitation since MS no longer provides that service.
Voice over Internet Protocol
These usually require a IP phone or adapter and a high-speed connection (DSL, cable modem, T1).
- Vonage $35 a month (residential), $50/month (commercial) for a DC local phone number
Integrated VoIP Solutions
- Cisco: By far and away, the leading provider of VoIP systems to corporate clients. The Cisco site has reference material on technology abd systems. However, it has failed to provide attractive solutions for small and medium companies.
- Nortel Networking:
- Avaya: what remains of Ma Bell on the telephone hardware side.
- VoEx Voice Exchange
- Shoreline Communications
- Others: Pingtel, Sylantro, Veraz Networks and Vertical Networks
Getting Up to Speed: VoIP is a wrapup of recent reporting and analysis on the IP telephony front, especially Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hearings and rulings and other regulatory issues.
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.
Requires a minimum bandwidth of 64 kbps (technically feasible over a dialup, but not recommended)
< Yahoo Messenger >
MS IM 6
< How to use a webcam with Microsoft Messenger >
< Webcams >
Hybrid products and services
Requires a minimum bandwidth of 128 kbps
< http://www.sightspeed.com/ >
< http://www.glowpoint.com/ >
< http://www.starbak.com/ >
GlobalStreams Vibe Phone
< http://www.vibephone.com/onq/jsp/index.jsp >
Macromedia Flash MX Communication Server
< http://www.viack.com/ >
Secure communications with encryption
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
All IP services are dependent on availability of bandwidth at both ends of the converstation and other network considerations. Although a dialup connection might be feasible, it will not be the most reliable. If power goes out, you also loose your phone connection, so most user would want to retain a standard phone service.
Quality of Service
Because so many factors are not within the control of an organization, it is hard to guarantee voice and video quality. QoS on the US Internet is excellent in most cases. In Latin America, it is a very complex issue.
The traditional phone service offers end-to-end connections, which is generally regarded as more secure than VoIP. Although VoIP connection are usually not encrypted and can be open to eavesdropping, the data is chopped up in little pieces and sent over the Internet so it would still be hard to intercept it. On the other hand, in many countries, wiretaps are a frequent tool of police and intelligence services so the expectation of privacy cannot be guaranteed. The technology has become so widespread that even non-law enforcement groups are using it (Peru).
Free is nice, but it's hard to nail down. Although software applications may not require outlays of cash to get them installed on workstations, they do incur costs for any organization trying to implement them. Users have to become more knowledgeable about their computers, types of connections.
A dialup connection can rarely support bandwidth-intensive applications. DSL, cable modem, wireless and LANs are more common but they are rarely free. They usually require a year-long contract.
Upgrade of equipment
Some OAS offices may need to upgrade computers or other hardware. For instance, they may need a router, or USB ports, speakers, microphones, headsets for their computers.
"Free applications" tend to be more "greeky," with normal users requiring assistance in getting an application up and running. There is also a learning curve. The value of an application arise from it being employed by many users. On the other hand, once a VoIP or video system has been set up, tested and running, it should function without problems.