Have You Heard About VoIP?

By Chris Wharry, Smart City‘s General Manager at the George R. Brown Convention Center

Voice Over Internet Protocol, also known as VoIP or IP Telephony, works by converting the voice signal from your telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet. The voice signal is broken up into smaller pieces (packets) and sent though the network individually. The caller’s voice signal is compressed, transferred over the Internet, and decompressed at the other end. VoIP originated in February of 1995 from a small company in Israel called Vocaltec, Inc. They released a software program called Internet Phone, which allowed one user to call another user via their computers, utilizing a microphone and a set of speakers.

Since its origin nearly twenty years ago, VoIP has grown into a more widespread method of communication. There are many types of VoIP services in use today:

  1. ATA – The most recognized version stands for Analog Telephone Adaptor, which allows users to connect their standard home telephones to the Internet. Vonage and OOMA are two of the many VoIP companies that use this hardware to provide service to their customers.
  2. Computer to Computer – This service utilizes a PC’s microphone and speakers to make calls to other PCs that are connected to the Internet. One of the most popular companies using this service is Skype.
  3. Server based IP Phones – These phones look like any other standard phone but have an RJ-45 Internet port that connects directly to an Ethernet switch or router. IP phones get their service through either a local VoIP server located within an office or a cloud based service like Vocalocity.

Some of the benefits and problems small home office and large enterprise users of VoIP have faced include:

Pros:

  • Utilizing VoIP can result in a drastic reduction in long distance costs. Companies like OOMA and Vonage offer free domestic long distance as well as free long distance to many foreign countries.
  • VoIP’s scalability, or the ability to accommodate an increase in users, is as simple as a bandwidth or software upgrade. A standard public switch telephone network (PSTN), however, usually requires costly hardware upgrades.
  • VoIP companies typically have feature-rich options that are included with the service at no additional charge. Those options include call forwarding, 3-way calling, voicemail, call tree service, and voicemail to text/email service.

Cons:

  • VoIP can be susceptible to power and ethernet outages. A power interruption means that a user’s Internet and VoIP phone may not work. Using an uninterruptible power supply may not extend beyond 10-15 minutes. Additionally, it requires a constant Internet connection in order for it to work. A lack of Internet means a user’s phone system will not work. The quality of the call may be decreased by a slow Internet connection.
  • Emergency 911 calls placed using VoIP are routed differently than those made from PSTN service. Most VoIP service providers will provide the user’s information to the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point); however, it is the user that is responsible for keeping it up to date. Any emergency 911 calls placed will not work if there is a lack of power.

Many technology experts predict that landlines will be completely obsolete by the year 2025. In November of 2012, AT&T petitioned the FCC to plan for the retirement of traditional phone networks. Hank Hultquist, Vice President of AT&T’s federal regulatory division, said that the PSTN system many consumers are accustomed to is now obsolete and will not be sustainable for the indefinite future. This technology is no longer in production and has become increasingly more difficult to find parts and engineers to work on PSTN systems.

Despite these issues, many Fortune 500 companies have implemented VoIP solutions with redundancy, reliability, and greater voice quality. With its current widespread use and acceptance, VoIP is proving to be a viable replacement for landlines and another efficient way for users to stay connected in a digital world.

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