Voice over IP
The days of Bakelite phones and operators ‘putting you through’ are long gone. So, too, is circuit switching, where a knot of cables and plugs carried your voice from Yarmouth beach to Westward Ho on a single, unbroken line. This is the Internet age where a tenner buys broadband, we fly for a pound, and phone calls cost nothing at all.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has turned telephony on its head and, although you have probably not yet noticed, you have used it already – more often than you ever imagined. Over the past ten years, BT and its competitors have been rebuilding Britain’s network. Between them, they have been untangling the nest of cables that runs beneath our feet and replaced it with digital connections based on common Internet protocols. In an analyst briefing in March 2004, BT likened it to moving from spaghetti to lasagne; a surprisingly apt comparison that explains why talk is now so cheap.
But it is not just the networks that are changing. VoIP is moving into the home and office, with services from the likes of Skype, Vonage and even BT itself cutting out the phone jack altogether. Instead, your calls are routed across an ADSL connection to whichever exchange is closest to their intended destination. What’s left of its route – the local hop from exchange to handset – is all you pay for, and that’s what makes local-rate calls from Birmingham, Britain to Birmingham, Alabama more than just a pipe dream.
Take things one step further and the beauty of VoIP is clear, as subscribing to compatible standards lets you talk to your contacts and friends for free. Among the proliferation of services on offer, a range of protocols including SIP and H.323 are starting to provide the kind of stability we take for granted with browsers and the Web.
Over the next 11 pages, we investigate the growth of VoIP and analyse the best services on offer to UK subscribers. We also test the kit that aims to mimic the traditional handset and keypad to which we are all accustomed. We even reveal which VoIP service lets you make free calls to regular phones anywhere in the UK, without a subscription, monthly charge or catch.
Whoever said the future was orange didn’t know what he was talking about.
Why it is for you
Free calls, easy-to-use hardware and simple installation mean VoIP is no longer just for early adopters
UK communications have been transformed. Look back 20 years and you would see little competition. Telewest and NTL wouldn’t be household names. Friends and family numbers would be no cheaper than the rest of your bill and, in the absence of cut-price deals from Toucan and One.Tel, you would be clock-watching every time you called beyond your local area code.
Yet on the surface, things do not look that different. BT still supplies close to 70 per cent of the UK’s fixed numbers, claiming ownership of 29.6 million lines in its accounts for 2004. That’s about 6 per cent more than it served 12 months before. It remains the first name that comes to mind when you talk about phones and calls, and it continues to make massive profits, with its most recent results showing a £4.6 billion turnover.
But that’s about to change. ‘At the beginning of this year, we started to see a turning point,’ said Tony Reeve of communications integrator Affiniti. ‘Businesses are becoming location independent, and people are working at home so want to be able to transfer numbers from home to the office, and vice versa.’
Affiniti was born in April of this year out of Kingston Communications’ business services division to provide managed services for anyone implementing VoIP into their business; a market facing massive growth.