Second life

LOWDOWN

What is it? Voice over IP uses private networks and the Internet instead of typical telephone systems to transmit calls.

What's the first step in implementing it? Make sure the network has the bandwidth, hardware and quality of service to support voice.

What's down the road? Convergence with developing technologies such as "presence" technology, which indicates when a user is reachable; hybrid WiFi/cellular phones that can switch from a WiFi hotspot to a cellular network; and WiMax, which extends the range of wireless.

Must-know info? Plan well. "It's a project. You have to approach it from a project-management standpoint," said IDC's Shawn McCarthy.

Voice over IP expands its capabilities

Voice over IP almost didn't survive its overhyped debut in the last decade. It often disappointed with kludgy hardware, quirky software and dropped packets that ruined many calls.

Now VoIP, phone calls transmitted over private networks and the Internet rather than traditional phone systems, has a second life. New quality-of-service standards and more powerful analog-to-digital coders and decoders have brought sound quality and signal reliability within shouting range of the traditional public switched telephone network.

The promised revolution in the government market has been slow in coming, but the news of pilots and installations is growing. Increasingly, VoIP is seen as a way to bring sophisticated call control and messaging to more workers and locations.

More and more networks, government agencies and corporations are pairing VoIP with multimedia communications, typically adding videoconferencing as well as channels such as instant messaging and PC whiteboarding in a broader mix called IP telephony.

Other new technologies are on the way too that will harness WiFi and cellular technologies and bring VoIP to PDAs. Most VoIP also are being designed to operate on a variety of infrastructures.
David Essex is a freelance technology writer in Antrim, N.H.

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