Small publishing businesses and great conferences have grown up solely to tout VoIP's revolutionary potential. Their premise is that VoIP will wrest control of telephony from the traditional phone companies the way PCs wrested computing from mainframe makers. But VoIP has a lot of shortcomings as a telephone technology. In reality, the most profound revolution will come from Voice 2.0 services, which combine the strengths of traditional and IP telephony, while minimizing the objectionable features of both. Here are five ways Voice 2.0 can change your life, if you let it.
1. It will let you own your phone numbers
Sure, you can port your number today when you change phone companies. But all you're doing is transferring ownership from one big company to another. Voice 2.0 pioneer GrandCentral (now part of Google), along with others, lets you get the number first, then apply it to any phone service you want. Landline, cellular, VoIP — it doesn't matter. That means you'll never again have to stick with any technology or provider you don't like or with any phone company you think is about to go under.
It also means you can remain reachable for the rest of your life to those who matter. Even if your career forces you to change cities a dozen times before you're 40, your childhood friends will still be able to call you with those urgent late-night personal crises that require immediate answers. Your Voice 2.0 service will also undoubtedly let you block those calls with a few keystrokes.
And if you use your own business number rather than the one that comes with your corporate cubicle and PC, you can stay in contact with your best customers even though you've been downsized out of a job or have moved on to brighter opportunities. But as we've mentioned before , getting the OK to put your own number on your business card can be touchy. The key: Make sure the boss knows you need it to stay in touch with previous clients at your current job rather than with your current clients at your next job.
Voice 2.0 company TalkPlus, for its part, lets you map multiple numbers to the same cellular account. That means you can receive calls from old friends, new romantic interests and continuing customers on your one mobile phone — and know who is who via things like customized ringtones and incoming call messages. And YouMail lets you provide different voice mail greetings for different callers based on incoming caller ID, another way to keep different parts of your complicated life separate. All in all, Voice 2.0 eliminates the monolithic limitations of one-number, one-voice-mail, one-phone traditional telephony.
2. It will free you from the quality/price trade-off
In the golden days of telecom quality, a call from Boston to Bangkok sounded like it was traveling just down the street. That was just after optical fiber replaced copper cables and satellite links in connecting even the developing world. There's been a marked deterioration in quality since then. These days a call from Menlo Park, Calif. to Mountain View, Calif. — just down the San Francisco peninsula in Silicon Valley — can sound like it's traveling through a leaky analog cable under the Indian Ocean.
At least part of the difference has to do with VoIP. IP telephony can sound clear as a bell in controlled environments with high-bit-rate codecs and network bandwidth set aside just for voice. But when a single call might travel over Internet, Ethernet LAN and wifi links and has to traverse from TDM to IP or vice versa, it introduces myriad opportunities for voice degradation. In short, the quest for cost savings that drives many to VoIP also drives down quality and reliability.
Many Voice 2.0 companies recognize this problem and transport their long-distance calls over cheap but traditional uncompressed voice circuits, using VoIP only in the switching for the features it offers. Mixing and matching technologies this way can thus bring you the quality of traditional telephony with the flexibility of IP. So if you thought getting the savings and convenience of VoIP meant sounding like you had outsourced your head office to Tajikistan, Voice 2.0 will give you a whole new outlook on life.
3. It will untether you from the Internet
Too many VoIP services require you to stay within reach of a PC Web browser. If the calls aren't traveling over the Internet, you may still have to set them up on the Web, perhaps by typing in your number and the one you're trying to call, so the service can ring both. Even if you can use ordinary phones, you'll still need to plug them into a broadband Internet connection, usually via an ATA (analog terminal — or telephone — adapter).
Voice 2.0 gives you less Internet-centric ways to gain the benefits of VoIP. The most liberating of them are services like Eqo , Jajah , Rebtel and TalkPlus that let you use your cell phone to launch those cheap calls. With unobtrusive client software running on your handset, you can set up the connections via a graphical interface that looks no different from your cell phone's built-in phone book.
Sometimes the calls don't even have to use any cellular minutes. You can have the Voice 2.0 service ring your landline and the number you're calling and connect the two, in a mobile Web-enabled version of the venerable callback technique. You might even, for one brief moment, forget the Web is involved.
4. It will free you from cellular toll-call charges altogether
Speaking of mobile minutes, when is the last time you made an international call from your cell phone? If you're at all cost-conscious (and if you work for a Web 2.0 startup, that's all you are), you might even cut short a candlelit dinner at a classy restaurant to get back to your office for an overseas conference call at 9 a.m. Tokyo time. Anything to avoid those dollar-a-minute international cellular tolls.
With Voice 2.0's VoIP switching and telco-grade transport, you can use one of the above-described cellular clients to make those calls for a few cents a minute, and still have no need to repeat your questions and answers three times because of overtalk. You might even be able to wrap up business in the cab on the way home, impressing your date with both your casual overseas cellular calling and your Japanese language skills. And it'll all be so easy that the only time anyone, including you, knows it's not a real cellular overseas call is when the bill comes in. It should run about one-tenth of what your mobile operator would have charged you.
5. It will make your landline and cellular carriers treat you better
Have you tried getting phone service from AT&T lately? Ma Bell and the rest of the telco family have apparently realized that the balance of power has shifted. Unlike monopoly cable companies, they can no longer dictate to consumers. Cellular operators are getting the idea, too. Both are making an effort to at least provide service more quickly, efficiently and even helpfully.
The various VoIP providers have a lot to do with this, since they're offering a cheaper alternative to traditional telephone service. Still, the telcos know they offer better quality and reliability. But when Voice 2.0 companies deliver their calls over the same infrastructure the telcos use, as they often do, they take away the telco quality edge as well.
Once that happens, the telcos will have to be even nicer. That is, they'll have to compete on convenience, features and price, as well as quality. And that really will be revolutionary.
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