Q: What is all the talk about VOIP?
Can I use my computer to replace the telephone?
A: VOIP, Voice over IP, has been an emerging technology for the last few years. It offers a phone calls over the Internet but it is not without problems.
One of the major enticements to VOIP is that you can make phone calls for "free". Nothing is really free because you need a computer and ISP, Internet Service Provider, before you can make "free" phone calls.
There is a very basic point that everyone should understand before they attempt to throw their standard telephone away. When you use the Internet for voice communication, you are at the mercy of the data traffic jams. ISPs will always tout the speed of their network but they can't guarantee consistent speed under a heavily used network. The Internet is a collection of various networks with different speeds and capabilities.
The telephone company has invested huge engineering efforts in their voice network.
The voice network is designed to offer consistent performance even under high call volume. QoS, Quality of Service, insures that your voice will not be interrupted during a conversation. This means that when you are having a conversation, your voice will arrive at the other persons phone without any interruptions.
There have been various attempts to build QoS into the Internet but it's still a work in progress.
You could think of the Internet as a highway. When the traffic is light, the traffic or information moves quickly but when there are too many cars, traffic slows down. The slowdowns cause a voice conversation to become garbled or disconnected. The telephone network could be considered as a commuter fast lane except that there would be no backups getting off the commuter lane. The commuter lane allows travel at a consistent, uninterrupted rate.
It isn't enough for a network to be "fast", there must be some predictability of the network performance. What good is "fast" if it is only when the network traffic is light? In order for a voice network to work, the network must deliver your voice signal within a specified time frame or the conversation will not be intelligible.
VOIP does have some limitations when using the Internet but it can offer some cost savings to businesses. Businesses with multiple phones can use VOIP technology to pass telephone conversations over their private business network. Most VOIP vendors offer a packages that provide both voice and data on a single network.
Don't throw away your plain old telephone yet but the day may come when telephone service is significantly different and the Internet reliably handles telephone conversations.