Discovering VoIP for Unified Communications

The development of technologies often marked the level of the development of society. Nowadays, technologies are progressing rapidly and it is even possible to speak about the start of new era where information is getting to be particularly important basically due to the increasing role of IT, computing, telecommunications and Internet. As a result, new, unique technologies are invented and implemented over and over again. One of such recent innovations is voice over wireless fidelity technology which has a really great potential but, being new and, consequently not so widely spread as it potentially could be, its perspectives are still worthy to research.

Today, the development of telecommunications and information technologies is one of the major priorities of the modern science and business. In actuality, telecommunications and IT have already reached an unparalleled level of development and, what is even more important, the development of new telecommunication and information technologies occurs at an extremely fast pace. As a result, new technologies are constantly introduced and many of them are able to revolutionize modern telecommunications or, at least, change them consistently.

In this respect, the development of VoIP ”“ Voice over Internet Protocol technology – is particularly noteworthy because it challenges the convention telecommunication, phone networks and open new opportunities for communication worldwide. At the same time, it is necessary to underline the fact that, in spite of the innovative nature of VoIP and its numerous advantages, such as accessibility of communication at any parts of the world where the technology is available to users and Internet connection is maintained, there are still a lot of challenges and drawbacks VoIP has to overcome in order to replace or compete efficiently with conventional phone networks and telecommunication systems. Nevertheless, it is hardly possible to underestimate the huge opportunities VoIP opens for users in the field of unified communications.


The essence of VoIP

In fact, the emergence of VoIP is closely intertwined with the development of modern IT, Internet and the increased demand for efficient means of communication with low costs of communication. On the basis of the development of Internet and modern telecommunication system, the creation of VoIP became possible. Basically, VoIP is a complex telecommunication system, which has made a tremendous progress since the time of its creation. Today, it is possible to speak about VoIP as a family of transmission technologies for delivery of voice communications over the Internet or other packet-switched networks.

At the same time, it is important to underline the fact that VoIP is closely intertwined with the traditional public switched telephone network, since, in spite of all the progress of modern telecommunication technologies and Internet, VoIP still needs the traditional public switched telephone network to allow for transparent phone communications worldwide. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that VoIP represents a kind of mix of modern information technologies, telecommunication technologies with traditional telecommunication technologies since VoIP still implies the use of facilities and technical resources of the traditional public switched telephone network.

However, it is worth mentioning the fact that VoIP, as a new telecommunication technology, has been created relatively recently. To put it more precisely, it was implemented and used en mass about a decade ago in the late 1990s (Grinols, 2003). Though, the idea of the creation of VoIP dates back to the early 1970s, when the idea of voice over internet protocol emerged in response to the development of early computer networks. As a result, the first experiments aiming at the creation of VoIP were started and by 1973, voice was being transmitted over the early Internet, though this technology was not used en mass at the epoch, because of the limited spread of Internet in the world and a relatively low level of the development and reliability of the new technology (Proenza, 2008).

It should be said that the technology for transmitting voice conversations over the Internet has been available to end users since the early 1980s, but it is only in 1996 a shrink-wrapped software product, called Vocal Tec Internet Phone provided VoIP along with extra features such as voice mail and caller ID (Grinols, 2003). However, this early product had a considerable drawback since it did not a gateway to the public switched telephone network. Hence, it was only possible to speak to other Vocal Tec Internet phone users. But the next year, in 1997, the new soft switches were designed to replace traditional hardware telephone switches by serving as gateways between telephone networks (Grinols, 2003).

Since that epoch VoIP industry was boosting and, today, revenue in the total VoIP industry in the USA is set to grow by more than  24 % to more than $ 3 billion (Higdon, 2008). The growing number of subscribers naturally stimulates the further growth of the industry making VoIP a very attracting industry for investments. In such a context, the VoIP industry can count for the stable development, at least in the nearest future.

Benefits of VoIP

At the same time, the commercial success of VoIP is, to a significant extent, determined by the new technology and large opportunities it offers to users. In this regard, it is necessary to dwell upon basic advantages and benefits of VoIP, which users can enjoy and get, being VoIP’s subscribers. In fact, one of the major advantages of VoIP compared to conventional telephone networks is the costs of communication because the use of Internet in the process of communication decreases substantially costs, which are needed for the communication by means of conventional telephone networks. In addition, users are not dependent on time or place of connection since they communicate practically anytime they need, while conventional telephone networks can suffer from problems of being overloaded with calls or even with limitation of time users can spend on the communication.

In actuality, VoIP can provide users with a number of functions or services which are either limited or more expansive or difficult to implement using the traditional public switched telephone network. In this respect, one of the major benefits and advantages of VoIP compared to conventional public switched telephone network is the ability of VoIP technology to transmit more than one call over the same broadband connection (Proenza, 2008). In such a way, VoIP can be a simple way to add an extra telephone line to a home or office that means that users can save their time and costs on adding the new line.

Furthermore, VoIP can provide users with such functions as conference calling, call forwarding, automatic redial, and caller ID; zero- or near zero-cost features that traditional telecommunication companies normally charge extra for  (Proenza, 2008). In other words, users of VoIP can receive all these services free of charge that increases attractiveness of VoIP to customers who are concerned with saving costs on their communication. At the same time, VoIP can be an alternative to conventional public switched telephone networks, which offer the same functions but at a higher price.

In addition, customers using VoIP can secure calls using standardized protocols, such as Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol (Proenza, 2008). In this regard, it should be said that most of the difficulties of creating a secure phone connection over traditional telephone lines, like digitalizing or digital transmission, are already in place with VoIP that has enlarged consistently the competing potential of VoIP compared to conventional switched public telephone networks. But users should remember that it is still necessary to encrypt and authenticate the existing data stream. Otherwise, the security of phone calls via VoIP can be under a threat of unauthorized access to the communication process.

As it has been already mentioned above, VoIP provides users with location independence. This means that only an Internet connection is needed to get a connection to a VoIP provider. At the same time, one more important benefit of VoIP is the integration with other services available over the Internet, including video conversation, message or video file exchange in parallel with conversation, audio conferencing, managing address book, and passing the information about whether others are available to interested parties (Janower, 2004). In such a way, VoIP proves to be consistently more multifunctional compared to conventional switched public telephone networks.

Finally, it should be said that VoIP offers advanced telephony features such as call routing, computer screen pops, and IVR implementations, which are easier and cheaper to integrate via VoIP compared to conventional switched public telephone network (Ward, 2002). Obviously, the fact that the phone call is on the same data network as the user’s computer opens huge opportunities for communication, which have never been available to users before via conventional switched public telephone networks.

Drawbacks of VoIP

Nevertheless, in spite of obvious benefits of VoIP and its advantages compared to conventional switched public telephone network, VoIP also has a number of drawbacks which prevent VoIP probably from the domination in the field of communication. But, it should be said that the progress of technologies and introduction of innovations steadily decreases the number of drawbacks of VoIP. At the present epoch, it is possible to speak about several substantial drawbacks of VoIP.

First of all, it should be said that VoIP still suffers from the lack of the reliability. In this respect, it is important to underline that conventional phones are connected directly to telephone company phone lines, which in even of power failure, for instance, are kept functioning by backup generators or batteries located at the telephone exchange. However, IP phones and the IP infrastructure connect to routers and servers, which typically depend on availability of main electricity or other locally generated power sources (Higdon, 2008). In such a way, VoIP systems can be less reliable compared to conventional switched public telephone networks.

In addition, because of the relatively low reliability of VoIP’s network, it does not inherently provide mechanism to ensure that data packets are delivered in sequential order, or provide Quality of Service guarantees. Hence, VoIP implementations face problems mitigating latency and jitter (Kindt, 2002). This is especially true when satellites circuits are involved, due to long round-trip propagation delay. In such a situation, the receiving mode must restructure IP packets that may be out of order, delayed or missing, while insuring that audio stream maintains a proper time consistency (Higdon, 2008).

Another challenge of VoIP is routing VoIP traffic through firewalls and address translators. As a rule, in order to solve this problem, private session border controllers are used along with firewalls to enable VoIP calls to and from protected networks. Nevertheless, even the introduction of new technologies and systems does not prevent VoIP from significant drawbacks and problems it still suffers from. In this respect, the problem of security of VoIP communication is still under a question.

To put it more precisely, many consumer VoIP solutions still do not support encryption that makes the process of communication vulnerable to unauthorized access and use of information received in the result of such an access and interference in the process of communication via VoIP (Higdon, 2008). In such a situation, it is relatively easy to eavesdrop on VoIP calls and even change their content that is practically impossible in relation to conventional switched public telephone networks. For instance, an attacker with a packet sniffer could intercept a VoIP call, if a user is not on a secure VLAN.  This security vulnerability can lead to denial of service attacks to users’ network.

Furthermore, VoIP network cannot provide users with the possibility to use emergency calls. In fact, it is very difficult to locate network users geographically. Consequently, emergency calls cannot be easily routed to a nearby call center. However, to solve this problem, VoIP systems can route emergency calls to a non-emergency phone line at the intended department.

Compared to conventional switched public telephone networks, VoIP networks have another drawback ”“ the support of sending faxes over VoIP is still limited. In actuality, the existing voice codecs are not designed for fax transmission. They are designed to digitize the analog representation of human voice efficiently.

Advancements in VoIP ”“ VoWiFi technology

First of all, it is necessarily to briefly dwell upon the development of VoWiFi technology and its essence. Basically, VoWiFi is not a unique technology since it has been developed on the basis of technologies which have already existed and implemented. Obviously, the main role in the development of VoWiFi played voice over IP technology. In fact, VoWiFi is a logical step in the evolution of voice over IP.

Briefly speaking, the essence of VoWiFi implies the technologies a traditional application processor is used for the general man-machine interface as well as VoIP call control functionality, while DSP is used for the voice-to-packet-to-voice conversation (Kindt 2002).

Consequently, the use of VoWiFi demands certain hardware and software to be used. In this respect, it is necessary to point out that basically, the following is needed:  laptop with wireless capabilities and VoIP software, PDA plus VoIP software, WiFI handset similar to a mobile phone, or Dual cell/WiFi handset (Janower 2004).

On the basis of these elements it is possible to build up an efficient VoWiFi which basically serves to carry voice signals over wireless network, though it is not the only benefit VoWiFi can provide for consumers.

Naturally, the new technologies created on the basis of VoIP  has certain advantages compared to conventional technologies widely spread in the contemporary world. Obviously the main ”˜competitors’ of VoWiFi technology are mobile phones and cordless phones. As a result, to better understand the benefits of VoWiFi, it is necessary to compare it to both mobile and cordless phones potential.

In this respect, it is possible to estimate that VoWiFi can suggest cheaper calls compared to mobile phones since the spread of wireless network along with the development of IT and Internet make VoWiFi more applicable and cheaper than mobile phones. Furthermore, VoWiFi provides customers with the possibility of unlimited number of calls and lower international rates. Also, it should be pointed out that the technology provides higher quality of calls when indoors and it uses cheaper WiFi access points (Sinclair 2003).

Another significant advantage of VoWiFi compared to conventional technologies is the fact that WiFi coverage has multiple uses and remains portable to other WiFi Hotspots that the traditional technologies, such as cordless phones cannot perform.

In such a way the new technology seems to have a lot of benefits and advantages that indicate at possible perspectives of further wide implementation of VoWiFi. At the same time, these benefits create the basis for the further development of the technology and stimulate the competing technologies to progress and evaluate. Anyway, it is obvious that VoWiFi technology corresponds to the main demand of the customers since it is convenient, efficient and relatively cheap. These are the obvious benefits of this technology.

Naturally, VoWiFi, being a relatively new technology, is not perfect and, regardless its numerous benefits listed above, it also has significant challenges and problems it has to cope with before this technology gains worldwide popularity.

In this respect, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon purely technological problem, notably, the use of a separate applications processor and a DSP in VoWiFi technology results in a larger physical package, which reduces internal area available for larger battery packaging within the product (Ward 2002). Moreover, the increase in number of components within the overall system adds to the collective power draw of the device.

Furthermore, the considerations related to the battery-powered, portable nature of a VoWiFi device should also be applied to the overall software architecture. It is obvious that there is a real problem since to conserve as much power as possible during stand-by mode, for instance, the system must power down as much of the external hardware, as well as the processor, when active processing is not on-going (Ward 2002).

Nonetheless, regardless the challenges VoWiFi currently faces, its advantages are still quite strong and attractive for the further development of the technology that makes its perspectives rather good. On the other hand, it is possible to find solutions of the current problems which have been just mentioned above.

For instance, in order to improve power consumption by a VoWiFi device, it is possible to leverage a ”˜DSP-free’ design methodology in which voice processing is handled on the applications processor. Furthermore, a CPU sub-system that allows programmatic control over the processor clock rate can be utilized to maximize the battery life of the VoWiFi device (Grinols 2003).

On the other hand, it is obvious that cheaper and more convenient and applicable technology is quite competitive compared to its basic opponents, including mobile phones and cordless phones. As a result, it is possible to speak about the perspective of wide spreading of VoWiFi technology in the years to follow.

In fact, it is evident that the technology is extremely perspective since it suggests really new way of the development of communications and telecommunication technologies, even though it is based on traditional technologies which are significantly improved. On the other hand, it is hardly possible to presuppose that VoWiFi technology would be completely eliminated because it is really innovative and more progressive than the technologies that exist at the present moment. Anyway, speaking about perspectives of VoWiFi, it is possible to presuppose that the technology would modernize and significantly improved, especially it concerns hardware, as well as software, in relation to battery life and its efficiency. Furthermore, even if this technology would be rejected somehow, than it would undoubtedly be a prototype, or a precursor of other progressive technologies, aiming at the improvement of the contemporary telecommunications.

Conclusion: current trends

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that VoIP is a very prospective technology which provides huge opportunities for the development of communications. In fact, VoIP has a number of benefits and advantages compared to conventional switched public telephone networks, including the location independence, multi-functionality, and others. However, along with benefits, VoIP still suffers from serious drawbacks which prevent it from taking leading position in the field of telecommunications. Among the major drawbacks it is possible to single out relatively low reliability, low level of security, limited functionality (not designed for sending fax, for instance).

Nevertheless, it should be said that the current trends prove the fact that VoIP tends to overcome its major drawbacks and strengthens its position in the market of telecommunications. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the development of VoWiFi. In fact, VoWiFi is an innovative technology developed on the basis of VoIP which has quite good perspectives due to the number of obvious benefits it can suggest to customers compared to its main competitors. On the other hand, the current drawbacks of the technology could be eliminated in the nearest future that would make VoWiFi extremely perspective and probably even more popular technology than existing nowadays, especially mobile and cordless phones.

In such a way, VoWiFi technology can not simply improve the communication but also suggest much more opportunities for customers that are more efficient and cheaper than those they get used to at the present moment. At the same time, the introduction of this new technology reveals the trend to the improvement of the reliability of VoIP’s communication and higher security of the communication process. In such a context, it is possible to presuppose that in the future this trend will grow even stronger and VoIP will be able to compete or even outpace conventional switched public telephone networks.

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