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Web Phone Calling: Are We There Yet?

Jesse Berst, Editorial Director
ZDNet AnchorDesk



Bits and bytes may travel through cyberspace at nearly the speed of light, but the arrival of Internet telephony might be better measured in light years.

Of the 70 billion minutes of calls made last year, only 4% were over the Internet, according to Probe Research

Your computer still isn't ready to be a full-time stand-in for your phone. But it's ready for you to try it.

Today I'll examine the latest developments in voice over the Internet, as well as the key players.

THE PLAYERS
Although none of them is raking in cash yet, a few players rise to the surface as voice-over Internet providers:

  • Dialpad
  • PhoneFree
  • Net2Phone
For reviews, check out PC Magazine's "Dialing From Your Desktop" page. Click for more.

THE NEWS
In addition to the generally crappy sound quality, one of the barriers is confusion of where and how to go about it. But some big players are trying to clear that up.

Yahoo just licensed software from Internet phone company Net2Phone in an effort to keep its site sticky and boost advertising rates.

Microsoft already offers free online calling through Net2Phone to users of its MSN Messenger Click for more.

AOL Offers online calling, but charges about a penny a call.

THE DRAW
There are three main advantages to using the Net to make calls. The first is obvious.

Cost. If you think saving a few dollars on long-distance is appealing, imagine the draw for companies with whopping phone bills. Using the Internet to make calls not only lowers calling costs, but also equipment costs.

Features. Unified messaging can bring phone, email and fax to the same place on a desktop. Nortel Networks just landed a $1.4 billion contract to create a voice-over-IP platform. Click for more.

Administration. Businesses pay people to administer their various information networks. Combining voice and data into one network reduces that burden. Click for more.

THE TECHNOLOGY
One of the key barriers to widespread use of voice over IP is arrival of broadband. But technology is the other, and there have been advances. In particular, Session Initiation Protocol.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a signaling protocol for terminating phone calls over the Internet. It is both very manageable and designed to be simple for developers to use. Click for more.

3Com recently unveiled a package of SIP products and services to help service providers make Internet telephony viable for small- to medium-sized businesses. Click for more.

Other companies are hammering out code as well.

Genuity figured out how to convert its Internet backbone to carry phone traffic and business boomed because of it. Click for more.

Global Crossing is slashing costs for voice-over-Internet calls by routing them over its own Internet Protocol network, dramatically dropping costs. Click for more.

Are we there yet? No, but as soon as the bumps get ironed out enough for businesses to dive in, consumers will follow.

And when that happens, traditional phone lines will seem ... well ... light years away.

Are you ready to click out and touch someone? Hit the TalkBack button and let me know. Or go on to my Berst Alerts Forum where they're already talking about it.

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