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Six Things You Need To Know About VoIP

Think you know VoIP? Think again. There are plenty of myths and misunderstandings out there. We talk to 30 experts who tell you exactly what you need to know.

Do you think you know VoIP? Think again. There are plenty of myths and misunderstandings about the technology making the rounds. To help separate the truth from facts, we contacted more than 30 experts, and asked them to dispel the most common myths, and give you the straight truth. Here's what they told us.

Is VoIP just about voice?

The clear consensus of our experts is that the future of VoIP is more about a broad, new landscape that brings messaging, services, and apps to the desktop than simply about voice. Phil Edholm, VP of network architecture for Nortel Networks' Optical Ethernet and Enterprise Product Portfolio business units, suggests that an appropriate term for this converged networking is IP Multimedia.

Like other experts, Doug Fink, VP of IP communications for Calence, notes that SIP and presence likely will lead the way, with multichannel requests such as email and the Web looking more and more like real-time requests. Greg Welch, president and CEO of GlobalTouch Telecom, points to VoIP services and applications that listen to an e-mail on a handheld device or forwards voicemail as an email attachment. Telephone, fax, e-mail, and video conferencing no longer are fixed to locations. "Click a contact in Outlook or say a name to locate that person no matter where or on what device," adds Welch.

Jon Doyle of CommuniGate Systems chimes in with the convergence charge: "Call my email address? The long-term view is for users to have one data and voice address for all [IP-based] interactions." Meanwhile, Ray Prescott, CEO of VoxBox World Telecom, says that PDAs soon will have the same functionality as cellular in a WiFi hot spot through VoIP.

Does VoIP provide quality conversations?

The jury is still out on the question of VoIP quality compared to traditional phone systems. Mike Grieb, project manager for Technisource, says VoIP got a bad reputation largely from poorly engineered data networks when introduced, but adds that, properly engineered, VoIP is equal to or better than toll-quality voice. Grieb notes that the most common voice encoding scheme, G.711, is designed to be exactly equal to the public voice network in terms of quality, with a frequency spectrum of 300-3000hz.

As Grieb points out, while voice doesn't require much bandwidth, it requires error-free delivery. Networks designed to work well for data can tolerate occasional errors, but those errors may manifest themselves as pops, static, or worse in voice transmissions. Grieb further observes that the average Internet connection often has 2-5 seconds or more of delay to compensate for best-effort transmission. The problem comes when you want interactive audio. Imagine, suggests Grieb, having a discussion and you must wait for 5 seconds before responding. Too late, the other party has started again.

Eric Bear, VP of product management and global business development at Viola Networks, comments on a common VoIP complaint: "VoIP sometimes makes you hear things twice, makes you hear things twice. VoIP does not create the echo. Point your screwdriver at the PSTN equipment. VoIP can actually offer richer sound quality."

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