Number Please... Internet Calling...

[reprinted from IEEE - Fort Worth Section Signals November 1996]

by Jeff Carrell, Electronic Communications Chairman

Regardless of the locale, we can generally make a telephone call, but if it is long distance we have to pay the price. Now, there's a way to place a telephone call using your personal computer and the Internet as the communications link. The real benefit, the cost is only your phone call to your ISP!

Depending on many variables, such as computer speed, software, sound hardware, and the communications link speed and its quality, using this medium can be as good as using a normal telephone, although you probably can't "hear a pin drop":-) There can be some occasional delays or echoes and maybe even drop-offs in your conversations. What seems to be the most significant factor in addition to hardware and software is the quality of each party's phone line to the ISP.

System requirements

Your computer needs to be at least a 25Mhz system, although some software programs may require a faster, more powerful system. For the communications side, you need at least a 14.4Kbps link, but like anything else on the 'Net - the faster the better. One of the most important components is the sound card. In order to have a full-duplex conversation, you (and your calling party) must a have sound cards that support full-duplex operation. Be very careful in selecting your sound card, make sure it either has or can have (with a driver upgrade) full-duplex capability.

The software is very important as well. You and your calling party(ies) must have the same software at this time, as there are no standards in which they must operate. Phone software and your sound card are probably the most important factors when choosing what products you want to use. If you want to communicate with someone else, find out if they have already invested in this technology and then match your setup to theirs.

The final two components required are speakers and a microphone. In both cases, you don't need the most expensive or even mid-priced products. Some sound card kits include speakers and a microphone and they are generally adequate to perform the job you need.

Internet phone software can range anywhere from free to about $70.00 or so. Based on some of the software reviews this year, it's a toss up as to which software is better than the other. Hardware costs (excluding the initial computer system itself) can range from about $150.00 to over $400.00, depending on how extravagant you get when choosing speakers.

There is even a way to do multicast broadcasts, using a function called the Internet Multicast Backbone or MBone. See the MBone web page for more information.

For more information Internet Telephony Interoperability Consortium Voice On The Net Coalition

"Internet Phones, The Future is Calling," Internet World, June 1996

"The Internet Phone Craze," NetGuide, June 1996 MBone Website

Copyright © 1996 Jeffrey L. Carrell. All Rights Reserved