Free Long Distance

One of the neat features of the Internet is the ability to exchange e-mail with anyone, anywhere, for practically no cost. But did you know you can use the Internet to place voice or video calls anywhere in the world for the same low price?

Using the Internet to place voice calls (dubbed Internet telephony) is a highly debated issue. The major long distance companies, of course, are terrified their revenue will be significantly hurt by what is essentially free competition. They complain that their service is heavily regulated and taxed, with no such burden on the inherently deregulated Internet market.

Until recently, Internet phone software was proprietary. However, with new standards such as the "H.323" standard, software packages can now call one another, regardless of what software the user on the other end has installed.

How Internet Telephony Can Save You Money

The main goal for using the Internet to make phone calls is to save on per-minute long distance charges. A user in Illinois makes a local call to connect to the Internet, and can talk to someone in California for hours for the price of that local call. For users with a broadband connection that is always connected, such as DSL or a cable modem, they do not even have to pay a fee for the local call. For the same local calling rate, you can talk to someone in the next state, or on the other side of the world.

Applying Internet Telephony to a Business

Businesses can further leverage Internet telephony by tying branch offices together over the Internet. Employees can dial the branch office using an extension. Or, if you had to call a client located in New York, why not use the New York office's phone system to place the call, and save on the long distance fees? A phone system that supports Internet "tie lines" can eliminate costly leased lines between offices.

Imagine a customer who finds a product on your web site. What if you had a "click here to call our office" button on your site? They click, and up pops Microsoft NetMeeting or another H.323-compatible software package, and they dial into your office, using their sound card, microphone, and speakers.

Even better, what if the call rang your salesperson's desk phone just like any other call? Suddenly you can use features like voice mail, transferring, and conference calling. These features are possible with some of the new software-based phone systems on the market today.

Limitations of Internet Telephony

As with all good things, there are a few down sides to this new technology. With traditional phone systems, callers can place a call at any time. However, when placing a call over the Internet from PC to PC, the computer at the other end must be on and waiting for a call. Although an always-on business phone system solves this limitation, it can still be inconvenient for personal calls placed to friends' homes. Users also need compatible software or an Internet-enabled phone system to place and receive Internet calls. Fortunately, Microsoft includes NetMeeting with Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 5.

July 2000

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