The Basics of VoIP

Don't Worry -- Your Fingers Still Do The Walking

When I first started voicing the prompts for Asterisk, I must confess to having absolutely no knowledge about VoIP whatsoever. I only knew that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) — of which Asterisk was a shining example — is a technology which enables voice communications over IP networks, such as the internet or other packet-switched networks, rather than the traditional Public Switched Telphone Network (PSTN), typically used by the old, pioneer telcos.

That explained all the T-Shirts I kept seeing at the first Astricon, with the Bell trademark inside a red circle with a line through it.  (I thought it was an anti-phonebooth movement…)

Boiled down, it works like this: an Internet telephone call is a conversion of the analog voice signal to digital format and a compression/translation of the signal into Internet Protocol (IP) packets for transmission over the internet. The process is reversed over the reciving end. Easy Peasy!

While the first glimmers of the germination of VoIP can be traced back to 1974 a paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers entitled “A Protcol for Packet Network Interconnection”, (it’s on my night stand — really) it wasn’t until roughly twenty years later that  mass-market VoIP services over broadband Internet became available, enabling inbound and outbound calling, unlimited domestic calling, and to some other countries as well, for a flat monthly fee and free access to other subscribers using the same provider. Amazing savings and freedom for the calling public — with unheard of bandwidth efficiency and the low costs that VoIP can provide, businesses soon embraced the VoIP movement readily. Throw into the mix that VoIP has evolved into “Unified Communications” — treating all communications: phone calls, voicemail, e-mail, fax, and web conferencing; as discrete units which can delivered to any handset — including cellphones….it’s an evolution in communications which has been exciting to watch, and will continue to amaze.

There have been glitches. Quality of service — particularly, delays and latency (caused by the physical distance that the packets travel), can be greatly alleviated by relieving the congestion by means of teletraffic engineering. The issue of emergency calls dropping out — due to IP making it difficult to locate networks users geographically — has been a massive challenge technically, and even legally. Factor in the mobility that IP allows (which, remember, is a benefit) — the IP address has no relationship with a physical location. Big problem if you’re hoping the ambulance will find you and remove the whale harpoon lodged in your thorax. The VoIP E911 system — which associates a physical address to the calling party’s telephone number — fulfills the requirement of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999. However, it’s only as effective as the information it has: subscribers must be dilligent in keeping their address information up-to-date.

Security is another area in VoIP has some fragility: VoIP systems are susceptible to attacks, as are any interconnecfted devices. Hackers can create denial-of-service attacks, harvest customer data, break into voice mailboxes, and even record conversations. Maintaining security and still allowing VoIP to traverse firewalls continues to be a challenge.

Ease of communication. Affordability. Accessibility. Reliability, Not just buzzwords in the telecommunications industry — they’re the cornerstones of VoIP, which is indisputably the present gold standard of communication, and most definitely the future.

Next week’s blog: tag along with me at the IT (Internet Telephony) Expo convention in Miami, and watch the schmooze habits of the Voicegal! Many demos will be handed out! There might even be some on-the-spot outgoing messages recorded on prospective client’s cell phones….all in the name of marketing, and convincing them that mine is the voice they need on their systems!

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