If you drop by any internet café, you may hear more foreign languages being spoken than you will hear German. People of all walks of life having a very in-depth conversation in their native language with their computer. The most likely explanation for this is that they are calling their homeland through one of the VoIP services.
Not heard of VoIP? You will have done, however, it will most likely have been referred to by the most popular VoIP system, Skype. I am sure you will have heard or possibly even said. “Skype me” or “I’ll Skype you soon.” It is starting to become part of the collective vocabulary of the IT savvy population in the same way that “google it” or “I/he/she/it googled” did not so long ago.
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It is the process in which the audio from a conversation is digitalized, sent over a high-speed internet connection and then outputted as speech on the other end. It is a phone call. The only difference is that it is free to call anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world. Many of us make more of our phone conversations over Skype than we would over the traditional telephone or even our mobile phones.
Possibly the reason that it has started to take over from these “traditional” methods of communication is that it offers much more than just calling for free. Skype also offers video calling, file transfer, instant messaging and conference calling as well as the possibility to call landline or mobile phones around the world at reduced costs. This flexibility of use means that more and more people are abandoning their landlines and using Skype to keep in touch.
Skype increased this flexibility in a couple of years ago taking advantage of the burgeoning Smartphone market. It provided a mobile application version of its service that used mobile internet connections allowing people to make calls to other Skype users. This meant that people could make calls which were not charged to the normal calling tariff. Of course, the user would have to pay the data transfer but with more and more networks providing high bandwidth for low cost, local and international calls from your mobile were an affordable reality as well as the attraction that you were now free of your computer when using Skype.
Does all this sound too good to be true? Well, at times it is. Skype has been well known for bad call quality and unexpected drop outs as well as a very well publicize total failure in 2010. The service is entirely dependent on a steady and relatively high speed internet connection. This may not be a problem in Europe or North America but, however, in many developing countries or in some remote areas this is not available. As for the mobile Skype application, it is reliant on a connection to mobile internet which even in Europe and North America is patchy at best.
The aforementioned failure happened in December 2010 when Skype was largely unavailable for a 24 hour period. This may have been an unwelcome inconvenience for the typical user phoning home and for companies that used Skype as their main method of communication it was much more dramatic. The blackout called into question the reliability and viability of using Skype in business and forced many companies to resort to more traditional forms of communication or at least put backup measures in place.
Regardless of this, Skype does have the mobile phone companies and landline providers worried. When the first mobile application appeared, many of the big mobile phone companies such as 02 and T-Mobile banned the connection to Skype. They saw this as a big threat to their business given that Skype offers such significant savings compared to the traditional mobile call charges. The landline companies are also under threat with Skype offering tariffs for unlimited calls at a fixed monthly cost that reflect a great saving.
For those who may be shy towards computers and new technologies, there are a host of traditional or at least traditional looking products to make use of Skype. Available from their website, you can buy “normal” home phones, videophones, office conference packages as well as many third party applications which increase the possible use of Skype. This makes the transition to Skype much more appealing to many more people.
With the reliability and the availability of high-speed internet increasing yearly, both in our homes and on mobile devices, VoIP look set to stay. The plethoras of services available through these technologies far outweigh the trouble which can be seen by the willing adoption of these services throughout the world. The following video is just one of many examples of how such adoption may look like: