My forays into Voice over IP
One of my interests lately is Voice over IP (VoIP)). It’s actually been around for almost a decade, but is finally reaching critical mass. Companies are starting to deploy it internally to provide additional features at reduced cost. Cell phone companies are going to use it to provide “Push-to-talk” functionality similar to what is found on Nextel’s network. Now people are using it to talk with others on the Internet and supplement or even replace their existing phone service.
Today, it’s possible to get a device from either a service provider or from a number of resellers that you can simply plug into your Internet connection, plug a traditional phone into, and get “dial tone.” You make and receive calls to the normal phone network just like a normal telephone except the call is digitized and transmitted over the Internet. Either a number of outgoing minutes are included or you get an unlimited number of minutes, which typically includes long distance to the US and Canada. Features like Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Caller ID, Call Blocking, and Voicemail are generally included in the base cost–not for extra cost like your local phone provider.
If you’re not sure if Voice over IP is for you, you can try using Free World Dialup. You can either use software on your computer or buy a dedicated device and configure it in a matter of minutes and you can talk to people worldwide. FWD doesn’t provide total access to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), though they do provide the ability to call US 800/877/866 numbers and freephone numbers in the UK and Netherlands. External companies provide the ability to both dial into FWD by either directly mapping a standard phone number to your FWD number or via a two-stage dialing service where you dial in, then dial the FWD number you wish to reach. Another company provides the ability to dial out to the PSTN for a nominal charge. FWD also provides a “welcome line” (55555) where you can call and chat with a random person that could be located anywhere in the world. There are several other features as well, all free.
Anyway, as a result of my growing interest in VoIP, I have been participating in the Voip.VoIP Forum on Broadband Reports. An executive from a VoIP company named Broadvox began posting on the forum and “pre-announced” the availability of a residential VoIP service called Broadvox Direct (previously, Broadvox had been a provider only in the business space). A lot of discussion of upcoming features and availability ensued. A date was promised where Broadband Reports members would be allowed to sign up. The service wasn’t entirely ready, but the executive felt he needed to keep his promise, so signups were allowed anyway. The process didn’t go as smoothly as planned, so signups were halted and will not be permitted until the problems resolved. A few people actually have service with them, myself included.
Due to a lot of different posts on Broadband Reports about service availability and what features were available (and when), I created a Wiki page called Broadvox Direct to track all this stuff. [Edit: It’s a static page now and I’m sure it’s out of date.] It’s obviously not considered “official” by any stretch, but it’s an attempt to provide a single location for this information until Broadvox Direct’s website is brought back online and brought up to date. I may turn it into an official FAQ later on.