The main difference is, in the hardware, or rather the lack of it. “Unlike traditional architectures,” says Vocal’s Press Release, “VOCALâs ATA hardware and software designs fully utilize modern DSP resources and advanced patent-pending algorithms to eliminate the need for an additional RISC processor, reducing the cost of typical building materials by as much as $8 per design.”
At least according to the specs, Vocal’s ATA seems to be on-par with the SPA-2000, the mainstay of many VoIP providers. As a bonus, it supports T.38 for faxing and iLBC as a codec. It remains to be seen if it is comparable in quality and provisionability.
Cheaper ATAs are generally a good thing. The cheaper the ATA, the easier it is to get VoIP in the hands of more people. Linksys lowered the bar substantially by bringing their PAP2 to market for about $50 (before any rebates). Of course, those devices are probably subsidized by the providers they are locked to. If someone can provide an unlocked, fully functional ATA device for under $50, they’ll have a lot of takers. Not only individual hobbists, but the providers as well.
I’ve talked with a number of different consumer-level VoIP providers about their choice in hardware that they ship to customers. Customer hardware is a large chunk of the provider’s acquisition cost. Given how tight margins are in the VoIP market, anything to lower that acquisition cost without too much of a compromise in quality is generally a good thing. For example, when Sipura first made the SPA-1000 readily available, BroadVoice switched from shipping the SPA-2000 almost immediately. The difference between the two devices? One less VoIP port available for customer use and about $10 difference in price.
Part of the reason many VoIP providers charge such high activation and cancellation fees is to recover some of the acquisition cost. It does not completely cover it in all cases. Smart companies like BroadVoice allow you to bring your own hardware and give you a substantially reduced activation fee for doing so.
If the technology behind ATAs gets cheap enough, perhaps we can embed VoIP in, say, “normal” telephones. Now here’s an idea: a VoIP telephone that also doubles as an analog handset for a normal PSTN line.