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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Internet Telephony Fails To Live Up to Its Hype

Of all the promises of the Internet, to me the most seductive is Internet telephony. Among all of the hype surrounding this "I" word, here is a real application meeting a real need which can save people a lot of money.

By Internet telephony I mean the ability to hold voice conversations with people over the Internet. For example, me sitting here in Moscow being able to talk to a friend in London -- and the only people making money out of the process are our Internet service providers (charging us the same per hour a telephone company would charge us per minute).

Given the cost of international calling in Russia, this instantly opens up a huge vista of money saving possibilities. Sadly, here in Moscow, I have found that Internet telephony has serious drawbacks.

The first problem is connected with the nature of the medium and has nothing to do with Russia. The only people you can talk to across the Internet are people who a) also have a fast enough Internet connection, b) are also at that moment logged onto the Internet, c) are also running the same Internet telephony software as you. (A striking feature of Internet telephony is that every single Internet telephony product is incompatible with all the others.)

The second problem is that Internet telephony requires a fast modem connection to provide you with enough bandwidth. Bandwidth is the information bearing capacity of your communications link and it varies depending on the nature of your connection. Bandwidth is measured in Bits Per Second, or bps. To achieve any results at all with an Internet telephony product, you need a connection speed of 14,400 bps. To have what you would recognize as a telephone conversation you need a 28,000 bps connection. This is close to the maximum speed possible on an analogue telephone line. To achieve greater speeds, and thus better conversations, you need a different kind of physical connection. The new high speed standard now growing in importance in the United States is ISDN. Using ISDN it is possible to hold an Internet conversation that is indistinguishable from a regular telephone conversation.

In Moscow, a 14,400 bps connection is still relatively fast. Very few users are lucky enough to have clean enough lines to establish 28,800 bps connections. Not all of the Internet service providers even offer this connection speed.

When I tried Internet telephony here, long sentences rarely made it to the person I was talking to. (My conversations were so choppy that most people gave up trying to talk to me.)

However, my time spent experimenting with Internet telephony was not completely wasted. Using a product called Internet Telephone from a company called Vocaltec, I discovered that once you have connected with someone there are ways to cope with a very poor speech quality. The Internet Telephone contains a "chat" function which enables you to have a conversation with someone by typing each other messages.

But for 99.9 percent of users here in Russia, with our noisy analogue telephone lines, Internet telephony is unlikely to become more than a gimmick for a very long time.

To try out Internet telephony you will need a multi-media equipped PC (or an Apple Mac) with sound card, a microphone and speakers (or earphones). Internet telephony software products can be downloaded on a trial basis from the World Wide Web. The best source of information on Internet telephony I have come across is Jeff Pulver's Voice on Net Home Page

Robert Farish is the editor of Computer Business Russia, fax: 929-9958, e-mail: