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 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?
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
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
STATE OF INTERNET TELEPHONY
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
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
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
There are three basic audio
product types approaching maturity on the
- • 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.