If your new to VoIP and have heard about it in the media, you could be mistaken for thinking Skype is VoIP and VoIP is Skype. However, this
is not the case. VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is simply a technology used by even some of our largest telco’s for the haulage of voice.
Skype, owned by online auction company Ebay, is a piece of very well marketed software that uses VoIP technology to allow Skype users to call
other Skype users for free.
Used my millions of tech savy users around the world, Skype has very little infrastructure but relies on a P2P (peer 2 peer) supernode
architecture to connect your call to your destination. This can have one side effect if you’re not careful. If you install Skype on a
computer with a publicly accessible internet address and without a firewall, then your computer can turn into a Supernode used to connect
and transfer voice data between other Skype users. This could result in your computer downloading and uploading a large volumne of data and exceeding bandwidth quotas.
For most users behind a firewall or NAT enabled router, this is not a problem.
As calls don’t go directly to your designation, but rather via other people’s computers Skype claims to encrypt your calls so other third
party Skype users can’t listen to your conversations. A risk occurs that one day, if it has not already been done that someone will work out how to decrypt these calls.
That aside, probably the biggest problem with Skype is in-flexibility and upgradeability. Skype, in its current form is a propriety software
application you must run on your computer. This means in order to receive calls, your computer must be switched on all the times. Often this
is impractical, hence users have to resort to prearranged times to call other Skype users.
Being software, most Skype users use a headset connected to their computers. Skype adaptors and handsets are starting to become available to
allow users the ability to use existing cordless phones or handsets, returning the feel of conventional telephony, but as this hardware
still needs the Skype software, you are still restricted to the requirement of having your PC on.
While one of Skype’s features is ease to setup, due to these restrictions you may consider a solution running on an industry standard protocol.
A solution where you can mix and match service providers and hardware.
For example, you could choose to buy a hardware based ATA or download a softphone and sign up with a free provider such as FreeWorldDialup or
Voxalot. In this case, you get the advantage of free calls between users connected to FreeWorldDialup or Voxalot, no different to Skype, while
at the same time the hardware based solution means there is no need to have your computer on all the time to receive calls - a much less power
hungry power box connected directly between your phone and broadband router handles this.
As the softphone and hardware ATA work on the same protocols, you can take the free option of downloading a softphone first, and when ready,
seamlessly upgrade to a hardware option without the need to giving family and friends a new VoIP number. Using the industry standard SIP
protocol means, you are not locked into a specific piece of hardware or one particular softphone, but rather have an extensive choice. Don't
like one, try another.
As you will see in the next
section, this option also has the added advantage in allowing subscribers not using VoIP to ring you via PSTN to VoIP gateways around the
world, and possibly for the cost of a local call.