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VoIP for the globe-trotting frequent traveler

VoIP is connectionless, making it a great option for frequent fliers.

As a frequent traveler, I am concerned with VoIP service portability. What are the benefits of VoIP for a globe trotter? Are there any downsides?
VoIP by its nature is great for globe trotters. Unlike the PSTN, which relies on a physical circuit connection between two parties and a location-dependent 10 digit telephone number, VoIP is connectionless. It is not bound by geography or a physical connection, so it works equally well when calling someone across the street or across the world. Parties are connected on the basis of an IP address, so the concept of area codes or a fixed location based on where the phone number resides are not relevant.

Since it travels over a data network, VoIP is much like email where the transport cost is nearly nil, and you usually don't think twice about how far away the other party is. All that matters is getting access to a broadband connection, and from there, most VoIP services can be used. Some are not so portable, but in the business world, an Internet connection will facilitate access to the corporate network or VPN, and from there, all the features of VoIP are available.

In terms of downsides, there are some realities to keep in mind. Mobile VoIP is not widely used, and many carriers do not enable it on their networks. As such, if you cannot access an Internet connection, your options for using VoIP will be limited. There are applications that will enable VoIP using WiFi and 3G, but these are not well known, and not all handsets can support them.

For major league travelers there is another caveat to consider. VoIP service is not permitted in a number of countries, especially in the developing world where competition is limited and the state-run telcos operate a tight monopoly. In these cases, VoIP is either not available at all, or if you try using it, the local network operators will or may block the calls.

It should also be noted that most uses of VoIP herein are for making calls, not receiving them. When business people are travelling, they are more likely to use their mobile phone than a landline for telephony. If the company has implemented an FMC solution and extended it to mobile handsets, than you will have the full benefit of VoIP for both incoming and outgoing calls that run over company's network. As such, interoffice calling would always be VoIP, meaning lower long distance charges. FMC is not that common yet, so for most travelers, VoIP will be based on either landline or PC-based calling.

Finally, the option of PC-based VoIP needs to be addressed. Free services like Skype are widely used in both the consumer and business worlds, and are a very attractive form of VoIP. Call quality can be highly variable, but it's a great option when travelling. Most of these calls would typically be made from a hotel room, and it is not uncommon for hotels to block these services as they want guests to make these calls on their phone system. This can be a very frustrating experience, but fortunately it is not the norm.

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