Tech Time: VoIP Me

In this economy, everyone is looking for ways to save money.  One answer is VoIP technology.  Voice over Internet Protocol allows us to bypass the traditional PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) in favour of using the Internet for our voice calls.  In simple terms, VoIP converts our analogue voice signals into digital data, compresses it and reverses the process on the other end.

I know you have heard of Internet calling before.  You may have even tried it and been turned off by the ridiculously long delays and poor quality connections.  Discard that impression and welcome to yourself to 2010.  Blazing (every pun intended) fast Internet makes VoIP calling practical.  Depending on your service provider, today’s VoIP calls are clean and clear.

Living on an island with as many nationals off the rock as on it means that as a nation we make lots of international calls. For us, VoIP calling is especially practical.  In addition to the cost savings and clarity, VoIP calls can offer many of the customary phone features we have gotten used to – caller ID, call waiting, call transfer, repeat dialling and conference calling are all available on VoIP calls.  Your VoIP provider may even offer online access to voice mail messages and the ability to attach the voice mail messages as an audio file to your email messages.

We can dial in or log on to VoIP in three different ways.  We can hook up a hardwire-dedicated device to our Internet connection and plug our phone into that device which is called an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter).  This is reliable, but generally, it is fixed.  You will be locked into a provider and the account you established with them.

Alternately, you can purchase and install an IP phone.  This special phone plugs directly into the Internet and can be configured to make calls online.  You’ll have to have an internet connection everywhere you want a phone extension, as these phones generally won’t work on the PSTN lines.

Skip the specialised equipment by using a ‘soft phone’.  Using software installed on your PC/Mac, your can ‘convert’ your computer into a phone using the built-in sound card and modem and with a headset as the only peripheral.  

Now, here comes the really exciting part.  VoIP is now available on select mobile phones.  Imaging, using a cell phone to make calls on the Internet!  So far, VoIP is only available for select smart phones like iPhone and Blackberry.  And even then, only in some markets … and Jamaica is not one of them sadly.  When we get access to the service, callers with 3G, WiMax or Wifi access will be able to route their calls through either the mobile network or the internet for the clearest, cheapest calls imaginable.

Of course, nothing is perfect.  VoIP does require a high-speed connection and electricity to even be considered.  With our frequent power outages, you may be left without any calling capability if you rely solely on VoIP phones.  Faxing is possible, but not yet practical and calls are hackable.  Oh well.

Disadvantages aside, VoIP is an exciting and cost effective option to keep us talking.


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