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TECHNOLOGY NEWS

A voice over IP: the future of telephoning lies in the Internet


April 4, 2004

BERLIN — The idea is not really new: conversations over the Internet using special software and a headset.

Yet until now real success with telephoning over the Internet has proved elusive due to a paucity of bandwidth. This has made consumers wary about investing in the technology.

Yet thanks to DSL and other new technologies, the Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), as Internet telephony is known, is seen as the future of telephoning.

The best known of the numerous programs for Internet telephony is probably Microsoft's NetMeeting. It comes included with Microsoft Windows and can also be downloaded for free from the Internet.

In NetMeeting, two parties converse with one another via a loudspeaker and microphone that are attached to the computer's sound card. A Webcam can also be included in the circuit if desired, letting the parties see each other.

The developers of the online swapping software KaZaA have put out a VoIP program called Skype. Users of Skype can call other users over the Internet, provided that they also have the software installed on their machines. The software is available for Windows 2000 and XP.

The sound quality of VoIP has not yet reached the level that consumers expect from traditional telephoning.

"The problem is the travel time for individual data packets," explains Manfred Breul, a telecommunications consultant for the Information Technology association BITKOM in Berlin, Germany.

Unlike the traditional telephone network, where a portion of the lines are reserved for the duration of a conversation, Internet transmissions break the speech into data packets. The conduit is only used when actual sounds are made.

"With other kinds of data, you don't have any problems, but with telephoning there can be problems with breaking speech into data packets," Breul says. Newer Internet protocols have been successful at reducing the transmission flaws that can result, insofar as they ensure that telephony data is marked for expedited handling.

Yet the recent world-wide boom in broadband connections has led some makers to seek options beyond computer-to-computer calling.

Software maker Indigo Networks, for example, has started offering Internet telephony that it claims is as easy to use as a regular phone in Germany.

Once registered with Sipgate.de, a pre-configured Voice-over-IP telephone is hooked up to a computer connected to a broadband connection. The phone costs 99 dollars.

Uncompressed audio files are sent out through the broadband connection to a conversation server from the Internet telephony provider. They are then sent out into the normal telephone network.

Just how much a user will save from this process depends on how it is used. For a German who is often abroad, having a permanent number that is a local call from Duesseldorf can be an advantage, since the actual connect is then forward over the Internet to wherever the user is located, at no extra cost.

Not surprisingly, the developers of the Sip protocol see a bright future for the technology. Jiri Kuthan, a project leader for the SIP technology, points out that it offers e-mail and telephony over one single network.

It appears that the big guns in the telecom industries have gotten the message, too. "We are developing scenarios for a switch from previous telephone networks to Voice over IP," confirms Deutsche Telekom's Wilfried Seibel.

Larry Valez, an analyst with the marketing researcher Meta Group, sees consumers benefiting in the end. "Telephoning will get cheaper in the future for everyone," Valez says. –Sapa-DPA


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