Internet Telephony - an Introduction Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Internet Telephony - an Introduction

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Along with just about everything else on the Internet, Internet Telephony (a means of using the Internet to make a phone call) is really picking up. But unlike some of the other things on the net that are popular because they're convenient or different or time-wasting, Internet Telephony is causing a stir because it's cheap. You see, the theory is that you can talk to anyone in the world who has a computer for the cost of a local call.

Though the sound quality still isn't quite there and the convenience isn't what it should be, it's still a big enough stink that phrases like 'does this sound card have duplex transmission?' can be heard outside of the back-rooms of a Tandy showroom.

Hardware and Software


The fact is, you probably have enough hardware and software at the minute to call your Aunt Edna in Istanbul at the local rate. All you need are speakers, a microphone and a sound card. (If you're currently shopping for a new computer or for just a sound card, you'll want one that allows duplex transmissions. This will allow you to have something resembling a normal conversation, where as a regular sound card will oblige you to take turns chatting, sort of like a CB radio.) Even your slowest modem should be about right. It's the bandwidth at either end that's going to decide sound quality.


So you've got the hardware... andyou've probably got the software, too. If you've got Netscape Communicator up right now, check out the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Click on the icon for your inbox, go into your addresses and say 'hi' to Conference. It's easy to use, it's basic and it's free: it's an excellent place to start. If you're using just the Netscape Navigator browser, you can download the rest of the Communicator suite, including Conference.

If you're working from a Windows machine, you'll also have access to Microsoft Netmeeting, which comes as part of Internet Explorer. It's a little spiffier and includes video conferencing and application sharing between the hooked up computers as well as a few other useful features.

There are loads of other video and telephony programs out there, many either freeware or shareware. Fool around and find the one that's best for you. Popular options include:

For Macintosh
  • Clearphone, for talk as well as video

  • CU-SeeMe, for talk and video

  • Internet Phone, for the original

  • Net2Phone, use the internet to call a regular phone

  • VDOPhone, full colour video

For Windows
  • CU-SeeMe, for talk and video

  • Internet Phone, for the original

  • Net2Phone, use the internet to call a regular phone

  • Netmeeting, see above

  • VDOPhone, full colour video

The Future

The reason that Internet Telephony and video conferencing hasn't really caught on yet is the very reason that it's not quite as cool as it sounds (yet). You see, not only does your server have finite bandwidth, the Internet does, too. There is only so much information that can go through, and telephony and video conferencing require quite a lot of data to go through at a constant rate (or your conversation has lots of nasty cut-outs in it). Usually the bottleneck is your modem because it's the thinnest of a long stream of pipes, but when your connection to the Internet gets bigger (for example, if you get a cable or ADSL modem) then the bottleneck can shift to somewhere else on the net that's harder to fix.

Fortunately, the Internet's pipes are getting bigger and the routers are getting stronger, so it's going to be less and less of a problem as time goes on. However, it's still not quite there in a lot of places... so don't cancel your long distance subscription just yet.

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