September 26, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

VoIP wants to cut the computer cord

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Mark Bruk, a frequent business traveler, always packs a Plantronic headset with an ear bud and microphone so he can plug into any computer and make phone calls on the cheap.

Once he finds an Internet connection, he only needs to download a piece of software, or "softphone," to make the call using voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology. The software, created by his own company, takes about 30 seconds to download and, presto, he's making a call.

Of course, Bruk, chief executive of VoIP provider CounterPath Solutions, drinks his own Kool-Aid when it comes to phone technology. But he's also a cutting-edge sort: He's using broadband Net access and lightweight software to save big money on his telephone calls.

Bruk, whose company supplies audio technology to Yahoo, argues that it's only a matter of time before people across the country will be able to use VoIP-enabled softphones on a mobile device. Web surfers are already warming up to PC-to-PC voice dialing in popular instant chat applications from America Online, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft's MSN.

The big question, however, is how exactly do all these companies plan to deliver a VoIP service beyond the PC and onto some sort of mobile device?

"Will it be their own network and phone--or is it a branded service with someone else's equipment?" asked Scott Ehrlich, president of RedTie, a media technology consulting company in Seattle.

The industry has been buzzing about the future of VoIP since eBay announced it would spend $2.6 billion in cash and stock on the acquisition of Skype--the pioneer of consumer software for voice calls on computers. Adding to the frenzy, Google also has entered the VoIP market with an instant chat and voice application, and it's testing a Wi-Fi consumer service that could help it deliver phone and information services to wireless devices.

The Skype buyout shows that technology executives are betting that consumers will soon change how they make phone calls, reducing the need for a phone service from a traditional provider such as Verizon Communications or SBC Communications. VoIP essentially turns telephone calls into just another piece of software running over an IP network.

Rumors are already swirling that Google is developing its own software and hardware for a Google phone. It's not too difficult to imagine a piece of software as a plug-in for Apple Computer's iPod--turning it into the iPhone--or a personal digital assistant becoming a PDA-phone.

In Korea, Samsung sells a 3-megapixel digital camera that appears to be a normal digital camera, but when a person slides the back of the device down, there's a keypad for making calls. Ubistar, another Korean company, is selling memory sticks that store from 64 megabytes to 1 gigabyte, preloaded with a softphone. It comes with a microphone and earphones. Bruk, for example, carries a USB (universal serial bus) key loaded with his company's software so he can plug it in to any computer and avoid an Internet download.

Jeff Black, founder of TalkPlus, a Menlo, Calif., start-up, said he is talking to all the portals about branded offerings for consumer VoIP services. TalkPlus sells a software service with features such as 10-person conference calling. It offers privacy controls that let people block business calls after a certain hour but allow personal calls.

"There's a huge market for small devices that give you access to information you need."
--Mark Bruk, CEO, CounterPath

Credit Skype with lighting a fire under this market. In just two years, roughly 53 million people have downloaded Skype's free software to their PCs. The softphone lets people talk to other Skype users anywhere in the world via the Net for free. And more than 2 million people pay a monthly fee to dial from their PCs to cellular or landline numbers.

With products that support it becoming more common, VoIP is starting to pick up steam. According to an Infonetics Research report, 40 percent of customers with broadband Net connections will buy voice service by 2008. This means that the total number of VoIP customers could jump to 24.3 million, from 1.1 million last year.

The softphone market is growing along with VoIP, but it's still young. There are roughly 200 million fixed phone lines in the United States, but only 2 million VoIP customers.

Internet companies such as Yahoo, Google, America Online and EarthLink have already dipped their toes into the market. Last spring, Yahoo added improved VoIP calling to its Yahoo Messenger. In the summer, EarthLink launched the beta of its Vling Internet calling service. Google last month debuted Google Talk. And last week, AOL announced it would be offering its VoIP service called TotalTalk.

AOL's TotalTalk will essentially let people replace their traditional landlines. It has advanced communication features, such as unified voice, e-mail and instant messaging, and call-management

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10 comments

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Yahoo vs. Skype On PDA
I use Skype on my Windows PDA and it works great. At $0.02 per minute for a landline call, I don't have to worry about burning through my cellphone minutes and then getting sticker shock on my next bill. Recently, I was sitting outside on the patio of a Border's sipping coffee, talking to a friend over Skype using an Apple Store free Wi-Fi connection. With my lightweight headphones plugged in to the PDA and using its built-in mic, my friend marveled at how clear the connection was. It sounded like FM radio, as opposed to the AM radio sound quality of a traditional phone.

In contrast to Skype's multi-device support, Yahoo lags far behind. Several years ago they abandoned Messenger support on the PDA. So while they crow about their new Messenger, with VoIP support, if you want to use it on a PDA you are out of luck. Even Yahoo Mail on the PDA in IE is lacking.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you willing to bet your life on VOIP
What happens with these systems if you need to dial 911? I
believe that this issue has not been fully resolved and many
providers seem to be trying to ignore it.

Thanks but no thanks. Until I am absolutely certain that I can
"pick up the phone," dial 911, and get the same timely response
and action that I can get with a land line, I will keep my land line
thank-you.

What happens during an internet outage, such as a disaster or a
simple problem with a key node server or even the central office?
Are broadband services dependable enough to trust your life to
them in an emergency. My Comcast cable connection is not! I
can depend on several temporary outages a month. Many times
it is in the early hours of the morning, prime time for a fire or
theft. My phone (also via the same cable but DPS) stays up but
not my IP address.

That is the prime reason I plan too keep my land line for the
foreseeable future until VOIP and Broadband has the same
reliability as my land line. My life could depend on it.
Posted by GymW (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Outages
Here in Australia, my ADSL is up 24/7. In 6 months I've had one outage while I've been awake. The telephone though suffers from severe noise when it rains, which it does quite a lot. Although I can't hear on the phone, I can use my Skype connection OK.
So if I get rid of the phone which costs $30 a month and pay Skype to call Emergency, I can save money and hear what the emergency crew are asking 24/7.
And they say Australian Telecoms are in dire need of maintenance. Looks like the US is worse off.
Posted by Stomfi (52 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
I agree with you, I would not change my service to no landline unless I knew it was just as dependable. The systems go down ALL the time, and with everyone on their phones and it being easier to access... how wouldn't there be constant problems? Not only that but how fast can you really type on a phone key pad? The computer is better for MANY reasons... people will always need computers, for other programs too, computers are NOT only used for the internet!
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Reliability
I think it is correct to worry about reliability.

The base telephone technology should remain as-is and VoIP an option to allow for cheaper communication when and where needed. If for the sake of transition, VoIP can be set as a unit's default. In case the Internet is not available, or when a contact is not VoIP enabled, then traditional telephony can smoothly take over.

The real issue with VoIP is the fact that it relies on more power compared to traditional telephony. Until that time, VoIP can't fully kickoff enough to replace the good old telephone line.

But VoIP can start early with wireless devices where Internet connectivity is an open option. With WiFi and WiMax soon? Cellular network providers better prepare themselves...
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Quality of Service
My friend Stacy and I share a birthday. On our birthday she called me on my VoIP line. My first impression was that she had been partying too much on our birthday. Her voice sounded slow. I instantly recognized that it had been sampled and was playing over the phone at slower than normal speed. Worse, I was receiving phrases (chunks?) out of order. I couldn't make sense of what she was saying. I asked her to call me back on my cell. She did immediately and she sounded perfectly normal. After this experience I will never use VoIP for business for fear that someone might think I'd been drinking.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hi, maybe you'll find this sdk interesting: http://www.voip-sip-sdk.com/p_200-a-simple-text-to-speech-voice-generator-for-sip-voip-call-voip.html
I'm curious of what other developers might think about it. :)
Posted by DeanM87 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
news.cnet is a high content site. If you want to take any information you should be carefully read this site.
<a href="http://www.voip-sip-sdk.com/p_43-how-to-setup-ozeki-voip-sip-sdk-with-freeswitch-voip.html">How to setup Ozeki VoIP SIP SDK with FreeSWITCH</a>
Posted by RAHIMN (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
news.cne is a high content site. If you want to take any information you should be carefully read this site.
<a href="http://www.voip-sip-sdk.com/p_43-how-to-setup-ozeki-voip-sip-sdk-with-freeswitch-voip.html">How to setup Ozeki VoIP SIP SDK with FreeSWITCH</a>
Posted by RAHIMN (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some time VoIP services are create some problem at the time of talking with each other but it didn't mean that they are not reliable. I am using VoIP phone from more than two years but I didn't get any problem yet. <a href= "http://www.itel.ca"> Hosted pbx toronto </a>
Posted by itelnetworks (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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