VoIP has lots of advantages over a regular phone service. However, like any emerging technology, there are still a few kinks in the system. However, as standards are developed it becomes more reliable and achieves greater acceptance. It is inevitable that VoIP will eventually replace traditional phone service – in fact, phone companies are already taking advantage of the technology to offer cheaper long distance rates.
One of the main advantages of VoIP is the low cost. If you have a fast Internet connection (DSL or cable) you can make PC-to-PC phone calls anywhere in the world for free. If you wish to make a PC-to-phone connection, however, there’s usually a charge for this but probably much cheaper than your regular phone service.
You can also sign up with a VoIP service provider which charges a monthly fee in return for unlimited calls within a certain geographic area. For example, some VoIP services in the United States allow you to call anywhere in North America at no extra charge. Overseas calls are charged at a relatively small rate.
Another advantage of VoIP is portability. You can make and receive phone calls wherever there is a broadband connection simply by signing in to your VoIP account. This makes VoIP as convenient as e-mail – if you are travelling, simply pack a headset or Internet phone and you can talk to your family or business associates for almost nothing.
Phone-to-phone VoIP is also portable. When you sign up with a VoIP service provider the Internet phone or adaptor that is used with that service is assigned a unique number. This ‘phone number’ remains valid even if your VoIP service is in Cleveland and you are connected to the Internet in Bangkok. An Internet phone is small and light enough to take with you anywhere. Simply plug it into a broadband connection anywhere in the world and you can make and receive calls just as though you were in your own home or office.
There are many other features that make VoIP attractive. Call forwarding, call waiting, voicemail, caller ID and three-way calling are some of the many services included with Internet telephone at no extra charge. You can also send data such as pictures and documents at the same time you are talking on the phone.
With all this going for it, it’s a wonder that anybody still uses regular phone services. However, there are a few disadvantages to VoIP. Continuous service during a power outage and emergency calls are two of the biggest problems.
During a blackout a regular phone is kept in service by the current supplied through the phone line. This is not possible with Internet phones, so when the power goes out, there is no VoIP phone service. One solution to this problem is to use battery backups or power generators to provide electricity.
Another major concern involves emergency 911 calls. Traditional phone equipment can trace your location. Emergency calls are diverted to the nearest call center where the operator can see your location in case you can’t talk. With VoIP, however, their is currently no way to determine where your Internet phone call is originating from, so most VoIP services cannot be used for emergency calls. There is an emerging standard called e911, however, which attempts to address this issue.
VoIP also has problems with sound quality and reliability. Data sent across the Internet usually arrives at its destination in a scrambled order. This is not a problem for e-mail or documents because the data can be reassembled in the correct order once it has all arrived.
Voice data can also arrive in a scrambled order but this is more of a problem because of the real-time nature of VoIP. In order to make voice connections with the least amount of delay, some packets may have to be dropped if they don’t arrive in time. This can cause short periods of silence in the audio stream.
The amount of data that is lost depends on the distance and speed of the connection. Some networks receive a lot of traffic and are more likely to cause dropouts in the audio stream. Creating dedicated data paths is one way to provide high quality audio connections.
All these disadvantages will be overcome in time. There is a tremendous amount of work being done to increase the reliability and usefulness of VoIP.