I guess I mocked the world of VoIP before. But let me take another, more serious, attempt. Currently it’s hard to pass a day without running across some reference to VoIP – Voice over IP, the fancy expression for channeling phone calls through some computer network. People seem to be really excited about it. It’s like ‘gosh! all! new! technology!’.
But to be honest, I fail to see why that is revolutionary. Sure, it may mean savings for phone companies or those who need huge amounts of phone bandwidth and don’t happen to own the wires. But those are not issues which you’d expect to make the press and they’ll most likely show up in some column of numbers in the balance sheets of some company you don’t care about.
But how does it affect the average person? I just don’t get that. Any VoIP offerings that are accessible seem to offer calls at the same (or higher) prices as the normal phone does, just with the extra inconvenience of possibly having to use badly written software or needing additional devices to use it – rather than just an old fashioned phone. The phone may be an ancient device, but it is easy to use and offers a reasonably reliable quality without delays and stuff.
In particular: phone calls – at least between rich countries, and those are the places where the people farting about VoIP come from and call people, as well as the countries where you are likely to have the equipment to use that technology in the first place – are cheap. So cheap that it’s hard to imagine anyone would phone enough to justify any additional investment to make VoIP calls. I guess I can make calls to most landlines in rich countries for around two Cents a minute. That’s pretty hard to beat. And even if it is, the technology beating it has to be brilliantly convenient and much easier to use than the phone, because cost just isn’t an issue for most calls.
I.e., yes I might entrust my phoning activity to IP networks. But only, say, if I’m seeing someone on iChat and ‘phoning’ is just one click away rather than having to look up their number and getting the phone. It’s more convenient. But I completely fail to see how there’s any business in that. Nobody earns extra money because I’m using it. It’s not that I’m buying always-on internet to take to people through a computer.
You wrote: “I guess I can make calls to most landlines in rich countries for around two Cents a minute. That’s pretty hard to beat.”
In many countries, you can’t get landline phone calls that cheaply. In my case, I pay $45/month for a cable modem and $20 for 500 VoIP minutes to anywhere in the US, Canada or Europe ($5 of that is taxes, which have been growing steadily as taxing of VoIP has been expanded). There are cheaper VoIP plans available though I haven’t tried them. The cost of VoIP may be $0.04 a minute, but I don’t pay for a voice line, because I don’t have one; when I did, I paid $19.75 a month in fixed charges for it, in addition to whatever I incurred via usage. So even without any calls, that is a cost issue.
By comparison my mobile plan is $50 + $6 taxes for 300 minutes + unlimited handheld data (which last month was about 41 MB).
But how does it affect the average person?…
Sounds like the type the VoIP you’re perplexed about is the Skype thing or its variants, which is not very average person right now, depending upon one’s view of average. :)
I guess I can make calls to most landlines in rich countries for around two Cents a minute. That’s pretty hard to beat. And even if it is, the technology beating it has to be brilliantly convenient and much easier to use than the phone, because cost just isn’t an issue for most calls.
I guess I’m lucky and a lot of French broadband users are lucky, too. I had VoIP bundled with my Internet for free, because of local competition. My ISP bill did not go higher after they released the service, even with the TVoIP in there, although the ‘a la carte’ channels do cost something, but they’re quite cheap compared to the satellite prices. Anyway, I can link up a ‘normal’ phone to my ADSL modem and make calls with ease — the modem was prebuilt before the rollout for this functionality.
For shame, all my calls are free, even to the international locations. So my international phone bill went from ~ €50 per month to zero — ouch! Mr. France Telecom.
In terms of function, one nice thing is the voice messaging service that can be configured to send the message as an audio file via email, which is nice when I’m at work. Then there’s their new WiFi phone offering, I’m not sure I’ll jump on that right now… but, who knows.
I think VoIP can add benefits to the phone call idea, in terms of function and price, but the main thing I would worry about is security. One could argue that’s an article of faith.
Nicholas: OK, it looks like the charging schemes are fundamentally different. The first caveat being that in Germany it’s pretty hard to get a DSL line without a phone line – some kind of bundling happening there.
So when buying some subscription for €45 or 50 a month you’ll just have a phone line anyway. I always thought that was quite natural as DSL is running through the phone lines and is an ‘extra’ if you wish. But I guess it’s perfectly possible to just sell the DSL part of the service without the phone service for less.
(I don’t know much about mobile phones, but they just seem to be expensive and the charging seems quite different in the U.S. In Europe the person who calls a mobile phone is ripped off while in the U.S. calling to mobiles seems to to have the same numbers and rates as landlines.)
gummi: To me your situation sounds like you’re pretty close to (though not exactly identical to) what I describe: Your phone company use VoIP but it’s mostly hidden in their infrastructure. Thus you just plug in your phone. And you never talked about what happened behind your phone socket in the past decades – so why should you now? It looks more like an infrastructure thing for the telephone companies that makes their services cheaper to operate.
(Is there a noticeable difference in quality / delay to a proper phoneline with your setup as there tends to be with software solutions on the computer?)
To me your situation sounds like you’re pretty close to (though not exactly identical to) what I describe: Your phone company use VoIP but it’s mostly hidden in their infrastructure. Thus you just plug in your phone.
In this case, the Phone company has given up IP routing rights to an ISP, and it’s the ISP who are providing the phone service. In fact, one can leave the Phone service — France Telecom — and still keep the ISP. Ouch! Mr. France Telecom.
And you never talked about what happened behind your phone socket in the past decades – so why should you now? It looks more like an infrastructure thing for the telephone companies that makes their services cheaper to operate.
Well, I just came across this technology in the past two years. In this case, you have written a post about VoIP, so I talk about my experience regarding this technology. Why would I bother?… well, it’s saving me ~ €600 a year with some other perks. And, once again, the Phone companies have local loop unbundling here, so talking about the Phone infrastructure or the Phone company, that is ‘State’ built, is a bit misleading. It’s Keynesian economics, for sure, but that’s why the intervention has helped the ISPs. Of course, this may be an anomaly.
I think this is really one of those situations where the telecom landscape is really drastically different from country to country.
I can speak only to the USA situation here, but traditionally landline phone service has been relatively expensive, thanks to minimal competition and high taxation (mostly urban residents subsidizing rural phone service). Minimal landline phone service (no frills, no bundled long distance) would cost me ~$45 per month from my region’s incumbent provider. Instead I pay ~$30 (nearly 1/3 of it tax, sigh) for service that piggybacks on the cable modem I’m already paying for.
It’s really only worth talking about as a separate service becasuse I get to be an annoying smartass when ATT tries to “win me back” and it’s one more mysterious blinking box in the corner to confound my girlfriend. :)
There’s one great feature that VoIP brings in comparison with standard phones, and it’s that Internet knows no borders. You can get the service in foreign country and use it let’s say at home in Germany. You get a foreign phone number, and anyone from that country may call you for cheap local costs.
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