The delight of being able to hear the voices of our dear ones abroad is priceless, but the bills at the end of the day remind us that ‘priceless’ is an exaggerated word. Nothing comes free, and neither does maintenance of long distance ties. What if by some quirk of technology, we were able to speak long distance at greatly reduced costs? Today, with VoIP (voice over internet protocol), this can be a reality.
VoIP refers to a collection of transmission technologies, which make voice communications possible over internet. It is also known as internet telephony and helps the conversion of voice into a digital signal that can be sent over the Internet. These signals are then compressed and translated to IP (internet protocol) packets for transmission. They are converted to a regular telephone signal, if the user is calling on a normal phone. In other words, it facilitates the use of your personal computer to make telephone calls.
The use of this technology simply involves downloading and installation of a VoIP software like ‘Skype’ or ‘Vonage’, purchasing low-cost VoIP cards from the local market or online and using the number on the card for verification and then dialling the required telephone number from the PC.
The most important benefit of VoIP is of course, reduced cost. Generally, it saves around 30 percent to 50 percent of traditional phone bills, and sometimes even more. Because VoIP is all done over the internet, it cuts out the phone lines and expensive networks that other phones require. By bypassing cellphone towers and telephone lines, and using cheap internet access, you eliminate the middleman and the distance in between you and the person you are talking to.
The beauty of cheap VoIP is that it can be used anywhere and as long as you have an internet connection. Since it involves the employment of the internet, the user is able to integrate computer applications like email, e-fax and web conferencing, with the telephone. It gives the provision of using the phone, while accessing all other programs, and surfing the Internet at the same time. It is also possible for the users to take the VoIP adapters anywhere, and use their number at any place where internet is available. This feature is particularly helpful for those with active lifestyle and whose jobs require a lot of travel. Not to mention, all such calls made this way are also relatively cheaper.
However, all good things in life run the risk of misuse. There are growing concerns on the possibility that unwanted VoIP advertising messages — often referred to as Spam over internet telephony, or SPIT — will overwhelm IP voice systems, much as email spam has overwhelmed email messaging systems. VoIP is also susceptible to worms, viruses and hacking. But the worst case of misuse of VoIP is in the execution of cyber crimes. Terror groups increasingly use this service in their planning stages since it is cheap and very difficult to track. Effective measures by security agencies to monitor and regulate (not block) VoIP calls could help in bringing more order to the VoIP regime and prevent potential misuse.
Some ISPs (internet service providers) and governments have taken it in their own hands to censor what their Internet subscribers can or cannot do online. Scared of the loss of revenue posed by VoIP, some incumbent telephone companies and governments have in the past blocked ports so that calls cannot connect with a user on their network. Certain telephone companies have even gone as far as to block Google Talk, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! IM because they have also offered voice as well as text chat.
However, in spite of all the restrictions, people have managed to find their way around by using applications that dodge the blockage. Technology is such a thing that whenever a path is closed, someone always eventually finds a crack to it. So all these drives for banning VoIP technology are actually pointless. These governments should rather find a more lucrative way to utilise this technology to enhance their business, and at the same time allow their citizens to reap the benefits of cheaper phone calls.