Telephony is the technology associated with the electronic transmission of voice, fax, or other information between distant parties using systems historically associated with the telephone, a handheld device containing both a speaker or transmitter and a receiver. With the arrival of computers and the transmittal of digital information over telephone systems and the use of radio to transmit telephone signals, the distinction between telephony and telecommunication has become difficult to make.
Internet telephony is the use of the Internet rather than the traditional telephone company infrastructure and rate structure to exchange spoken or other telephone information. Since access to the Internet is available at local phone connection rates, an international or other long-distance call will be much less expensive than through the traditional call arrangement.
On the Internet, three new services are now or will soon be available:
- The ability to make a normal voice phone call (whether or not the person called is immediately available; that is, the phone will ring at the location of the person called) through the Internet at the price of a local call
- The ability to send fax transmissions at very low cost (at local call prices) through a gateway point on the Internet in major cities
- The ability to send voice messages along with text e-mail
Some companies that make products that provide or plan to provide these capabilities include: IDT Corporation (Net2Phone), Netspeak, NetXchange, Rockwell International, VocalTec, and Voxspeak.Among uses planned for Internet phone services are phone calls to customer service people while viewing a product catalog online at a Web site.
You can now add telephone capabilities to your computer by adding a telephony board, available for under $300,that combines the functions of modem, sound board, speakerphone, and voicemail system. A telephony board is often integrated into new machines targeted for small business and home office users.
A Telephony API (TAPI) is available from Microsoft and Intel that allows Windows client applications to access voice services on a server and that interconnects PC and phone systems. Both Microsoft and Netscape provide or plan to provide support for voice e-mail.