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I Hear Voices Over IP

I Hear Voices Over IP

Once my only concern in using an office telephone handset was picking up someone else's germs. With consolidated VoIP, I can now pick up the whole world's viruses.

The problem with VoIP is that the people most likely to have it are the very people you don't want to talk to.

I see the hottest thing in IT this month is Voice over IP. It's hot, but it's not new.

As an experienced, leading edge IT veteran, I've been using VoIP for decades. My usage has traditionally involved swearing down the modem line as the computer fails to connect, or hangs, or takes 17 hours to download the vital 30Mb Shrek 3 trailer.

But now, VoIP is two-way. Great! People can swear back at me.

It's interesting that after years of trying to jam data down voice lines (how I so fondly remember my early days of trying to get an acoustic coupler to work in a hotel room) now the reverse has occurred of jamming voice down data lines.

It makes sense. Whether I use water for drinking or washing, I only need the one pipe coming into my house to deliver it. Communication is communication after all, so stuffing it all down the same cable seems sensible. There's even VoIP via satellite being launched.

This is not sensible.

If I'm speaking to someone 20km away, why would I want my words to have to travel 60,000km straight up and down, passing through any number of network clouds, to get there. All my conversations will end up like a bad video link where you can read a book during the latency delays. Granted, I would only experience the latency issue if the connection is actually up. Current telephone lines are very reliable - more often than not, I get a dial-tone. And more often than not, I get a network connection - it's just not that much more often.

I understand the reason businesses are going VoIP (aside from the fact that it's the only sexy new technology that IT managers can impress their boss with at the moment) is to consolidate voice away from dedicated PABX servers onto existing servers and gateways. This will give a whole new lease on life to the profession of telephone sanitizers. Once my only concern in using an office telephone handset was picking up someone else's germs. With consolidated VoIP, I can now pick up the whole world's viruses.

The biggest problem I see with VoIP, over always-on broadband connection, is how to get my callers to shut up. It seems the people most likely to have VoIP enabled on their computer are the people I don't want to spend time talking to. This is just a technological replay of the age-old problem of how to get rid of someone who hangs around talking to you at parties.

And what's going to happen to the poor phone companies? (This may be the first time the expression "poor phone companies" has ever been used.) If everybody talks over IP, those millions of dollars of lucrative phone line profits the companies rake in annually will disappear, with their only compensation being extra traffic on the broadband. All that extra traffic - being charged by both the minute and the megabyte. Hmmm, I may have answered my own question.

It also explains why last week my phone company offered to upgrade my second phone line to broadband - and they'd only charge me half price for the second phone line rental. The second phone line (which I wouldn't need any more because of the broadband), at only half-price, plus the increased cost of broadband. Hard to resist such a bargain.

The Boss has just used Voice over Wireless to summon me to the boardroom, which in our house is the kitchen. Being a technological luddite, she refuses to call it VoW, and insists on still referring to it as speaking.

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT professional specializing in leading-edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"

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