Internet Voice Applications


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Of the more intriguing technologies to be hurled into the networking universe from the Internet “big bang” phenomenon, Internet telephony and audio transport seem to be garnering the lion’s share of consumer attention.

Home and business users are eagerly delving into a dream world filled with unlimited free long-distance telephone calls, teleconferencing, and real-time audio Web applications. While direct experience with these fledgling applications often pales when compared with the promise, adventurous users are nonetheless happily exploring creative ways to apply new technologies to everyday problems.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF VOICE COMMUNICATIONS

Communications via telegraph, radio, telephone, and cellular technology each struggled through an early period of disbelief, limited acceptance, and technical hurdles. Each communication medium also had the potential to provide substantive solutions to real needs. Commercial acceptance and widespread deployment came only with the creative and effective application of these technologies.

For the moment, available Internet telephony packages have captured the curiosity and excitement of consumers in the same manner citizens band (CB) radio entranced the American public in the 1970s. CB was a convenience technology that lured users by the millions with the promise of free and easy communication with friends, family, and business associates. Demand grew so dramatically that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was forced to open the citizens band spectrum from 23 to 40 channels.

While CB is still active as a commercial and emergency communications tool, the vast majority of radios built now lie dormant in closets, garages, radio repair shop parts bins, and landfills. What happened?

How Unpredictable Service Can Doom a Good Idea

Congestion happened, among other things. For many once-impassioned CB cowboys, cowgirls, and rangers, the thrill of the fad wore off quickly with the realities of use. The excitement of anonymous pranksterism was dulled when users became equally susceptible to the same.

Security was nonexistent. Solar noise often relegated useful medium- and long-range communications to late-night hours. Hackers with illegal 100-watt linear amplifiers would dominate the channels with the best propagation and flame anyone who dared to talk. The inconveniences of terrain, keeping antennae properly tuned, and coordinating important calls were also discouraging to many once enthusiastic CD users.

Worse, there simply was too much demand for limited bandwidth. The sheer number of simultaneous users on a given channel produced background noise levels that were difficult or impossible to communicate over, even using the best equipment at short range.

The unregulated load placed on the spectrum resulted, effectively, in lost or errored information that made the medium nearly unusable. Without quality of service guarantees, commercial implementation was limited to the very few whose needs were well-suited by this unpredictable service.

STATE OF INTERNET TELEPHONY TODAY

The Evolution

Internet telephony is evolving through a period of CB radio-like application. Wander into one of the Internet Relay Chat (IRC)-based voice call servers and you will find hundreds of users chatting about a wide variety of interests.

Some users coordinate off-line to meet in private conversations in lieu of a standard telephone call. Many congregate in multiuser chat sessions on numerous topics of common interest—a natural evolution of the IRC relay chat channels. A few, cutting their teeth on limited demo versions of software, place calls randomly into any open channel in search of a modern “radio check.”

Current Audio Products and Applications

But these applications represent old technology now. In fact, updated, improved versions of Internet audio and telephony software surface almost daily.

The energy in this industry manifests itself with an intense competitive urgency. New players and products are introduced and fade, accepted, rejected, or absorbed. The dominant vendors seek to outpace each other and grab market share. Alliances are struck, technologies acquired, and Web page press releases trumpet feature lists that would make a PBX salesperson envious. This industry is vibrant, alive, and here to stay—but in what form?

There are three basic audio product types approaching maturity on the Internet:

  Audio broadcast. Products in this category provide real-time, one-way transmission of press conferences, announcements, or entertainment such as music and talk radio.
  Group conferencing. These products enable multiuser voice conferencing.
  Telephony. Such products enable person-to-person telephony via a personal computer or workstation, conference calling, and voice mail. Some products provide whiteboarding capabilities, permit multiple simultaneous calls, and support collaborative computing.
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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