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Wednesday, September 22, 2004There is near unanimity that net phone services are the future.Just a few years ago, only tech geeks and a few hobbyists made phone calls over the Internet. Now, Net telephony is starting to find widespread acceptance among consumers and corporate customers alike. The technology is taking off despite its clumsy name: VoIP, short for voice over Internet protocol. The U.S. alone already has 500,000 residential users. Internet phone services are taking off now for a number of reasons. Most important, faster connections have improved quality and reliability. Nearly 30 million households, or 25% of the U.S. total, will have broadband by yearend.Second, big telecom and cable outfits are aggressively pushing the technology as a way to bypass the home dial tone. And self-installation is now so simple even technophobes can do it themselves. Anyone who's capable of operating a DVD player is capable of going to a retailer, purchasing an Internet phone, and plugging it into a broadband connection.Because calls are directed to an IP address instead of a specific physical location, VoIP providers can perform lots of nifty tricks that are much harder to do with regular phone service. For example, most basic VoIP packages include a feature that lets you receive your voice mail as e-mail messages. And you can plug the phone in to any broadband connection, and calls will automatically forward to the phone without you having to set up a new call-forwarding number.the quality of Internet calls remains inferior to regular phone service -- typically somewhere between a cell-phone call and a regular landline call. Also, you need a battery backup system to protect your connection in case of a power outage. Regular phones can run off the small amount of electricity that phone companies transmit over twisted-copper phone wires. VoIP phones require more juice and are often connected to DSL lines or coaxial lines used by cable companies, which don't have their own source of power.It's all part of a big trend to make voice calling just another service provided over an Internet connection. And since future phone service won't depend on a dedicated phone network, the telecom world will be forever altered. The old one was about connecting places. The new one is about connecting people.
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