Voice over IP or IP Telephony, also called Internet telephony, is the technology that makes it possible to have a telephone conversation over the Internet or a dedicated Internet Protocol (IP) network instead of dedicated voice transmission lines. This allows the elimination of circuit switching and the associated waste of bandwidth. Instead, packet switching is used, where IP packets with voice data are sent over the network only when data needs to be sent, i.e. when a caller is talking.
Its advantages over traditional telephony include:
- lower costs per call, especially for long-distance calls.
- lower infrastructure costs: once IP infrastructure is installed, no or little additional telephony infrastructure is needed.
- new advanced features.
Voice over IP traffic does not necessarily have to travel over the public Internet; it may also be deployed on private IP networks.
The protocols used to carry the signal over the IP network are commonly referred to as Voice over IP or VoIP protocols.
Corporate and telco use of VoIP
Although few office environments and even fewer homes use a pure VoIP infrastructure, telecommunications providers routinely use IP telephony, often over a dedicated IP network, to connect between their switching stations, where they convert the dedicated voice signal to IP packets and back. The result is a data-abstracted digital network which the provider can easily upgrade and use for multiple purposes.
Corporate customer support centers which provide support over telephone often use IP telephony exclusively to take advantage of the data abstraction that comes with it.
The benefit of using this technology is the need for only one class of circuit connection and better use of the available bandwidth. IP telephony is commonly used to route traffic that may be originated from and terminated at conventional PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) telephones.
VoIP is now widely deployed by carriers, especially for international telephone calls. Users are typically completely unaware that their telephone call is being routed over IP infrastructure for most of its distance instead of the circuit switched PSTN.
VoIP is also used by large companies to eliminate call charges between their offices, by using their data network to carry inter-office calls. They may also use VoIP to reduce the costs of calls outside the company by carrying them to the nearest point on their network before handing them off to the PSTN.
There are companies which offer a gateway to the PSTN from any VoIP phone. You can simply dial a conventional telephone number and the telephone call will be routed over your internet connection to the company that operates the gateway, and they will bill you, not the local phone company. Electronic Numbering (ENUM) makes it possible to dial traditional E.164 phone numbers, but be connected entirely over the Internet if the other party uses Enum, so you do not incur any expenses aside from the Internet connection fee.
VoIP implementation challenges
Because IP does not by default provide any mechanism to ensure that data packets are delivered in sequential order, or provide any Quality of Service guarantees, implementations of VoIP face problems dealing with latency and possible data integrity problems.
One of the central challenges for VoIP implementers is restructuring streams of received IP packets, which can come in any order and have packets missing, to ensure that the ensuing audio stream maintains a proper time consistency. Another important challenge is keeping packet latency down to acceptable levels so that users do not experience significant lag time in the conversation.
Solutions to these problems:
- Certain hardware solutions can distinguish VoIP packets and provide priority queuing for this class of service.
- Alternatively packets can be buffered but this can lead to an overall delay similar to that encountered on satellite circuits.
- The network operator can also ensure that there is enough bandwidth end-to-end to guarantee low-latency low-loss traffic: this is easy to do in private networks, but much harder to do in the public Internet.
- Jitter (delay variance) problems are mainly generated in lowband access (less than 256 kbit/s) because of serialization of big (1500 bytes) data packets. At these rates, fragmentation mechanisms for these big packets are needed (interleaving small voice packets) to reduce the delay. Over networks slower than 256 kbit/s it is almost impossible to ensure quality voice without a fragmentation mechanism.
Mass-market telephony over broadband Internet access
A new development has been the introduction of mass-market VoIP services over broadband Internet access services, in which subscribers make and receive calls as they would over the PSTN. This requires an analog telephone adapter (ATA) to connect a telephone to the broadband internet connection. Companies in the US, such as Vonage, VoicePulse, and Packet8, use IP to offer unlimited calling to the US, and sometimes to Canada or to selected countries in Europe or Asia, for a flat monthly fee. GTB (http://www.gtb.net), Maryland's largest VOIP provider, offers a similar plan to businesses. One advantage of this is the ability to make and receive calls as you would at home, anywhere in the world, at no extra cost. As calls go via IP, this does not incur charges as call diversion does via the PSTN, and the called party does not have to pay for the call.
For example, somebody may call you on a number with a US area code, but you could be in London, and if you were to call another number with that area code, it would be treated as a local call, regardless of where you are in the world. However, the broadband phone is likely to complement, rather than replace a PSTN line, as it still needs a power supply, while calling the US emergency services number 911, may not automatically be routed to the nearest local emergency dispatch center, or be of any use for subscribers outside the US.
Another challenge for these services is the proper handling of outgoing calls from Fax machines, TiVo/ReplayTV boxes, satellite television receivers, alarm systems, conventional modems or FAXmodems, and other similar devices that depend on access to a voice-grade telephone line for some or all of their functionality. At present, these types of calls sometimes go through without a hitch, but in other cases they won't go through at all. And in some cases, this equipment can be made to work over a VoIP connection if the sending speed can be changed to a lower bits per second rate. If VoIP and cellular substitution becomes very popular, some ancillary equipment makers may be forced to redesign equipment, because it can no longer be assumed that a conventional voice-grade telephone line will be available in nearly every home in the United States and Canada.
There is also a free service called Free World Dialup (FWD), that permits users to make free telephone calls to other FWD users, although has only limited connections to and from the public switched telephone network.
- Voice on the Net Coalition (http://www.von.org/)
- Wiki about VoIP (http://www.voip-info.org/)
- VoIP Guide (http://www.contentbyexperts.com/)
- Tom Keating's VoIP Blog (http://blog.tmcnet.com/blog/tom-keating/)
- TMCnet's VoIP Forum (http://voip-forum.tmcnet.com/voip-forum/forum/)
- The Future of Phone Calls is Now (http://www.webcogs.com/the_future_of_phone_calls_is_now.aspx) Opinion piece on VoIP.
- You Don't Know Jack About VoIP (http://www.acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=203) A technical overview of VoIP for software enginners.
- Internet Telephony Magazine Online (http://www.tmcnet.com/voip/)
- BroadbandReports.Com VoIP forum (http://www.broadbandreports.com/forums/voip)
- VoIP Now: Voice over IP News (http://www.voipnow.org/)
- Voxilla.com (http://www.voxilla.com/)
- Internet Phone Software (http://www.internetphonesoftware.com/)
- Global Telecom (http://www.gtb.net/) Maryland's Largest VOIP provider for businesses
- Howdy Corporation (http://www.hcs.com.sg/) - Your Internet Phone Company!
- How to Distribute VoIP Throughout a Home (http://michigantelephone.mi.org/distribute.html)
- Packetizer's VoIP Protocol Information (http://www.packetizer.com/voip/)
- VoIP White papers, case studies and reports (http://www.bitpipe.com/rlist/term/VOIP.html)
- VoIP Watch (http://andyabramson.blogs.com/voipwatch/), a weblog that covers Voice over IP
- Packet8 Unofficial Blog (http://packet8.blogspot.com/)
- VoIP User (http://www.voipuser.co.uk/), a UK community VoIP Resource
- Netheads vs Bellheads by Steve Steinberg (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.10/atm.html)
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Big Old Stupid Telephone Companies Are Throwing Away Their Only Real Asset (http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20040624.html) Opinion piece on packet switching vs circuit switching
- VOIP ez (http://www.voipez.com), Voice over IP made easy - a basic primer
- VoIP Blog: VoIP News and Information. Technology, Security, Practicality (http://www.voip-blog.com/)
- The VoIP Blog at Weblogs Inc (http://voip.weblogsinc.com/): daily VoIP blurbs
- TTT Communication Co., Ltd. (http://www.ttt-3.com/): VoIP gateway
- VoIP: Point of View (http://www.voipov.com/): VoIP books, research, and constant news updates
- VoIP Security Issues (http://www.acmqueue.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=209): An article exploring the implications of VoIP on network and application security