The minute of the phone call from Moscow to Australia at a standard rate costs about 1 USD, but now you can easily find companies that, having bought the prepaid wholesale voip trafffic from the other large companies and offer its customers at least four times the lower price – several cents per minute. The difference in cost is due to the fact that this is not ordinary telephone communication, but Internet telephony or, more accurately, IP telephony.

The most curious thing is that every Internet user can become an Internet user, you do not need to have a computer for this. You only need to buy any inexpensive phone with a dial key (it’s an asterisk) and make a small prepayment to the telecommunications operator.

Benefits, shortcomings, and prospects of Internet telephony.

March 7, 1876, Alexander Bell received a patent for the invention of the phone. By 1900, one and a half million devices were installed in the United States, and about three thousand patents in the field of telephone communications were issued. Since then, the phone – the most massive means of communication of people at a distance and in developed countries, it has entered almost every house, and communications companies have become one of the largest automotive and oil corporations. With the advent of digital computer networks, the lines purchased from telephone operators allowed to organize a cheap global exchange of information without a high long-distance and international costs.

An ordinary user can access the Internet simply with the help of provider in his city. Communication of computers through the telephone network is carried out by a modem – an analog-to-digital converter. But in recent years, the reverse process has clearly emerged: digital technologies and the Internet began to change the technology of voice information transmission. On this wave, and appeared so-called – Internet telephony. It turned out that it is convenient to integrate internal and external networks via the Internet protocol. Therefore now Internet telephony is more often called IP-telephony. We will use both of these names as synonyms, remembering that IP telephony is a more general concept.

The idea of telephone communication through the World Wide Web lies on the surface. Two people can easily communicate by e-mail. In real time, you can chat on ICQ, or chat in the chatroom. From here one step up to a simple conversation at a distance with the help of computers. A sound card, a microphone, speakers or headphones are a must for a modern machine. Moreover, if your sets are equipped with a small video camera, you can look at each other during a conversation. But still, it’s not an ordinary telephone conversation. Both companions should have a computer and the same software, most importantly, they need to agree on a preliminary talk time, which is very inconvenient and excludes calls to strangers and organizations.

This option has a significant advantage – an extremely low price. It is 1-2 cents and is obtained simply by dividing the cost of an hour of Internet access by 60 minutes.

The communication scheme is as follows. You speak into the microphone, the computer digitizes your speech, compresses it for brevity and translates it into a communication protocol over the Internet. Compression of speech – based on the fact that for a satisfactory sound transmission, often a fifth of the total acoustic signal is enough. The compression program just selects meaningful information from the entire stream. In such an encoded form, a message through several servers gets to the computer of your addressee and there, in the reverse order, is converted into the usual sound of your voice. The connection is not ideal. There are delays and gaps and it is better to speak in turn. The fact is that for the transmission of any information via the Internet, it is broken into small packages that can go to the destination in different ways, and then the last server collects them together and disposes in the right order. If some packages are delayed, then he waits for them to arrive and only afterward transmits the signal.

The next step in the development of Internet telephony was a call from a computer to a regular telephone. Also taken from the microphone sound, converted and compressed by your computer, digitally transmitted to the server located in the country you need. The server itself dials to the desired phone and converts the digital signal into an analog phone call. For your interlocutor, this will be an ordinary international phone call, although the connection may have the same disadvantages as in the case of a computer-to-computer.

The essential difference between the second type of Internet telephony is that an intermediary is needed to make a call from a computer to a regular telephone. It is usually a commercial firm. Until recently, such calls to the US, Canada, and Europe were free, but the long-standing investment crisis in the field of high technology primarily affected the Internet companies. Earlier, they expected to earn advertising and additional services, but these hopes have not been justified yet. Recently for calls, it is necessary to pay. But they are still profitable because they are several times cheaper than telephone company tariffs.

To use these services, you need to have a computer connected to the Internet, with a sound card, a microphone, speakers and have a credit card of the international settlement system or transfer the prepayment by bank payment. The software is downloaded from the company’s website and is easily installed on the PC. Sometimes this is not required. If you, for example, communicate through the Web site’s special web application, then you can limit yourself to a browser with Java support, which allows you to use Internet telephony services in any operating system. After registering on the site, you can call your business partners.

In Russia and CIS countries, most home users, and many small businesses are connected to the Internet through low-quality telephone lines, and on Internet sites of many companies, Internet telephony is warned about the need for at least 28 thousand bits per second. Do not be afraid – it’s some reinsurance. In practice, it is enough to have a speed close to 19 thousand bits per second. For example, all phones of the popular mobile standard GSM transmit data at a speed of 9,600 bits per second, and the quality of the telephone service remains quite acceptable there. Modern modems provide a speed of about 33 thousand bits per second, which is more than enough for simultaneous voice transmission in both directions. The bottleneck of voice communication through the Network usually does not result in the speed of communication with the provider, but the speed that the provider can provide to the client, because of the speed of the connection, and the reliability and continuity of data transmission, is critical for Internet telephony.

For example, you can use the browser, programs for chat, and not notice short interruptions in data transfer. If there is interference on the line, the modem automatically detects them and broadcasts the failed packets again. This error correction is acceptable when reading web pages, but it fails to transmit continuous voice stream data. For the reliability of communication, the speed of the modem is artificially lowered from 33 kilobits to 19 kilobits per second. This is usually enough. If individual packets disappear or arrive later, you will still hear the interlocutor, and he you, thanks to the redundancy of the encoding data. Noticeable inconvenience is the increase in the delay of the signal.

If your provider has sufficient speed, then, as a rule, the delay varies from one to two seconds, as with satellite communication, which you can get used to. The need for fast channels from the provider should be noted again. If he has overloaded the lines, most likely normal negotiations will fail. Unfortunately, for many Russian users, especially from small towns, this can be a serious obstacle. But the obstacle is surmountable. For them, as well as for anyone who has a person’s phone, it is still possible to communicate through inexpensive Internet telephony channels.

Of course, the most attractive and convenient service of IP-telephony is a call from a regular phone to a regular phone. To use this service, you do not need a computer or special software. It is enough to have a phone with a tone dialing number. Usually all modern devices, including domestic, and even street payphones in large cities, support tone dialing. It starts after pressing the button with an asterisk. Thus, you can call to Sakhalin, to Japan or to Hawaii from your home phone or city payphone. In cities where there are servers supporting such a service, the customer simply makes a city called to the service operator. But, how can I call the Internet without a computer?

In the computer-to-phone call scheme, the incoming audio signal from the microphone is converted and compressed by its own computer. But you can use a microphone built into a regular phone. The signal removed from it now falls on the computer of the company that provides voice communication over the Internet. Then everything happens according to the computer-phone scheme. The server of the sending operator searches for a server in the desired city, and the server directly communicates with the receiver’s phone. The low price of IP telephony is explained by the fact that voice traffic using Internet protocols written for the Internet is sent through the Global Network, rather than on expensive international telephone lines. By the way, the long distance call is also absolutely done. While the costs of the IP-service operator for voice communication remain low and therefore their prices are lower than the state ones.

Feel the difference. One minute of a call from Moscow to the United States or Canada in the busiest time from 8 am to 8 pm costs about 21 rubles, and when calling through the Internet – from 4 to 10 rubles, depending on the service provider. Calls to Europe usually cost about 16 rubles, and through the Internet 5-7. Savings from two to five times.

To use IP telephony from a regular telephone, registration is not necessary, it is enough to buy a plastic card of a supplier of such services with a face value of 100 to 3000 rubles, and you can call right away. The card resembles the usual Internet cards. The procedure for calling is very simple. When you erase the metal foil at the specified location, you will discover a unique password. After that, dial the number of the Moscow telephone gateway. Wait for the system to be greeted by pressing the key with an asterisk, transfer the phone to a tone mode, and dial the personal identification number and password indicated on the card. Then, as with the usual international call, there are 8-10 country code, city code and phone number of the subscriber.

Companies providing Internet telephony services in Russia and CIS countries have recently appeared quite a lot, they are located not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The competition had a positive impact on the prices and quality of the services offered. A minute of conversation from Moscow with the United States, Canada, Western European countries will cost about 3-6 rubles when calling. Communication to the CIS countries will cost from 3 to 15 rubles per minute. In general, significant savings are achieved when calling in developed countries and cities with good communication. The most expensive are calls to island states and countries with undeveloped communications. The minute of conversation with Afghanistan or Iraq costs more than 30 rubles. Significantly reduced tariffs for those customers who buy digital telephones for Internet telephony. But phones are expensive 500-700 dollars and it is profitable to buy them only to companies that have branches scattered all over the world.

When you see these figures, you want to ask how ordinary telephone companies treat such a sharp drop in prices for international and long-distance communication services, because Internet telephony operators beat their customers? If you get acquainted with the advertising Web pages of the companies themselves providing voice IP communication, it may seem that ordinary telephone company lives out the last days. But not everything is so simple. Many experts believe that the bright future of telephone Internet talks is in question. In their opinion, it is impossible to count on the mass transfer of voice traffic to the Global Network simply because of the low capacity of such highways. Recall that a normal conversation requires a pretty decent flow of information. Despite the fact that millions of people already use IP-telephony, its contribution to total voice traffic is still small. In a sense, it parasitizes the underload of the Global Networks and the potential for expanding the client base in such a development scenario is small.

Because of the low tariffs for some countries, the popularity of Internet negotiations is growing rapidly, and they will inevitably exhaust the remaining unloaded capacity of the World Wide Web. At this point, it will be necessary to invest in own high-quality dedicated lines and communication equipment. But while it is much more expensive than the usual cheap analog phones and a rapid decline in prices so far can not be expected. In addition, the weak standardization of hardware and software remains a serious illness of voice communication via the Internet. Because of this, systems often fail and there is limited data exchange between different operators. A habitual scenario for a successful business, when an increase in the customer base leads to an improvement in quality and a decrease in the price of the service in the case of Internet telephony, may not work because of the need to incur large capital costs at some point.

Another reason can limit the rapid growth of Internet telephony. With a decrease in the price of telephone calls, the duration of communication increases. According to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, a typical telephone conversation lasts 5-7 minutes, and the duration of a conversation using IP telephony is from 17 to 21 minutes. With a large influx of customers to digest a triple increase in traffic, even powerful telephone corporations would not be able to.

Therefore, large telephone companies are not very afraid of Internet competitors. Moreover, they are interested in their experiments with interest, because digital technologies allow to significantly expand the range of services for demanding customers. The most obvious is a telephone conversation and simultaneous work on the Internet. When one of the members of the family blocks the phone for several hours – this causes censure even of restrained relatives. Digital communication can solve this problem.

But more importantly, multifunctionality needs large firms. It’s very tempting to talk to the client at the same time and wander with him along corporate Internet pages. First, the buyer can get confused in the navigation on the site and he can help get to the desired product or product characteristics, and secondly, he just often would like to get an answer to one or two questions and they may differ from the standard ones. Thirdly, many buyers are used to communication during the purchase, this is a ritual that they are very lacking in virtual shops and banks. It would be convenient if, in a difficult situation, the client would click a button on the site and enter into a familiar dialogue with the seller.

The seller at this moment sees the information about the client, as well as the exact copy of the page of the site that the client observes. In this case, he will more accurately imagine what causes the questions. In turn, the client should not retell what he sees in front of him on the monitor screen.

This service is especially important for banks, insurance and investment companies working with a mass user. Their clients often have the most unexpected questions when filling out various standard documents and forms. Many people, having received for processing from the server of the seller several times sent out the form, in desperation disconnect the computer and go to the nearby branch of the competitor, where he will meet the usual clerks.

These arguments may seem somewhat contrived, but behind them is the recent unfortunate experience of electronic commerce. Every year the level of training and education of the average Internet user is reduced. As stated in the document of one of the firms:

“The ability of such customers to” wade through “to an answer to their question through multi-level links and all sorts of forms is very limited. When encountering difficulties, without support, they are likely to” run away. “So the ability to switch the process to a living person helps to keep them.”

In addition, about 85% of medium-sized companies are interested in merging a multitude of telecommunications services into one service package. They want to buy such a package from a single provider. Almost 50% of such firms already use such packages.

Among them, 42% believe that the package should include local and long-distance telephone services, wireless communications, Internet access and a broadband data service. In order to offer such sets to customers, large telephone companies will have to work on complex technical solutions, which are developed by small IP-telephony companies.

From the point of view of many authoritative experts, suppliers of the usual communication services must necessarily rely on IP-technologies. And this is the reality of today that can not be dismissed.

Large telephone companies understand that the success of digital technologies also requires them to reduce costs, improve the quality and variety of services and they are willing to look at the achievements of IP telephony, realizing that there are no serious investment funds for the development of their own alternative channels for IP telephony operators, and the market Until a big redrawing threatens. However, for insurance, telephone giants from time to time make legal attacks on newly-minted competitors.

Thus, the Association of American Telecommunications Operators repeatedly appealed to the Federal Communications Commission. Its members demanded the same rules and rules for IP telephone companies as for telephone network operators. The complaints said that IP telephony deforms the existing market of telephone services, with the current system of settlements between operators of IP-telephony and companies providing Internet access services, and the real costs can not be estimated. The claim is largely justified, but the Federal Commission did not satisfy it, because in accordance with American legislation IP-telephony refers to improved services (enhanced services), for the implementation of which computer applications are used. Regulation of improved services will restrain the development of computer applications.

The same position was taken by the European Union. European experts believe that the transmission of speech over the Internet can not yet be considered as a basic telephone service, but only as an additional one, and therefore can not be regulated in accordance with the regulations for purely telephone communication. Europeans allude to the low quality of IP telephony. At the same time, the EU recognizes that as the Internet telephone market develops, evaluation criteria can be revised.

And according to Ron Sommer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the largest European telecom operator Deutsche Telekom:

“IP-telephony is not dangerous for the traditional telephone business, it is rather a reasonable addition or inexpensive alternative – as you wish! You can fly in the first class, or you can – in the economic.” It’s time to organize an economy class in telephony. ”

In the words of Ron Sommer, there is some truth. So far, the quality of IP-telephony is lower than that of conventional telephone networks and there is a niche of cheap low-quality services behind it. But this is not always the case. If you decide to try this form of communication yourself, then first compare the tariffs of the usual telephone network and Internet telephony. Discounts are only felt in developed countries. Then buy a small card and check the lines you are interested in. You can be pleasantly surprised. Often by ear, the difference in quality is imperceptible.