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A new face for telephony?

IP telephony for the masses? How might that impact networking professionals?

In the past month, I've gotten 3 phone calls and a handful of e-mails from various companies seeking to draw me into IP telephony at the house. This includes my local telephone service provider (SBC), my long distance provider (AT&T), and my local cable company (Time-Warner/Road Runner). Everybody's offering flat fee plans, either with minutes or unlimited local and domestic long distance plans for somewhere between $35 and $45 a month.

This got me to thinking about where phone service in general is headed, and sure enough various pundits predict that by 2007 (a scant three years from now) somewhere between half and three quarters of all telephone traffic will be IP based. Perhaps phone companies are realizing they can make better use of their bandwidth by going all IP all the way rather than using constant 64 Kbps digital voice channels. Possibly, carriers have started thinking about more and better ways to light up "dark fiber" and get some revenue from their infrastructure investments.

Whatever the case may be, some of the deals are hard to beat. Fellow writer and technology blogger Daniel Gray reports recently that by selecting CallVantage from AT&T, he's been able to save about $80 a month on phone bills with unlimited local and long distance calling. He also gets support for conventional phone services like Caller ID, Call Waiting/Forwarding, and Voice Mail, plus "Follow me" and "Do not disturb" services to help him manage calls, as well as e-mail notification when voicemail shows up in his mailbox. He claims they even offer a free conferencing service for up to 10 parties. His only beefs so far are occasional and minor problems with sound quality, and his inability to get a number on his local exchange.

To these minor beefs, I'd like to add the only thing that's keeping me with one conventional line in my house right now: phantom power. When the electric power goes bye-bye—and that happens at least once a month for an hour or more during the summer here in thunderstorm plagued Central Texas—so does your IP phone service. But since my wife and I each have cell phones, odds are good that one or the other phone will be both working and available even if we lost IP phone access.

All this said, look for this phenomenon to have some interesting impacts on enterprise or corporate VoIP users. For one thing, it means the infrastructure providers will be exposed to a lot more voice traffic over their backbones, and perforce will have to become more familiar and comfortable with QoS and bandwidth reservation issues. For another thing, it means that a growing number of experienced VoIP specialists (and jobs for them to fill) will become more commonplace at ISPs, infrastructure providers, CLECs and Regional Bell Companies, and other elements in our long-haul communications providers. If indeed VoIP takes over the world of telephony, we'll have to expect telephony professionals to move into that space in a big way.

Maybe it's time for me to take the plunge after all? What about you? Drop me an e-mail and share your IP phone at home experiences, good, bad or indifferent. I'll try to sum up and report in a future VoIP tip. While you're at it, check out my new favorite consumer VoIP site, Voxilla.

Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, and the author of over 100 books on a wide range of computing subjects from markup languages to information security. He's also a contributing editor for Certification Magazine, and edits Que Publising's Exam Cram 2 series of cert prep books. E-mail Ed at

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