All telephones and services making calls across the Internet are not the same. Huge differences exist in the features available to you depending on the type of service you get.
There are no adequate general terms used to describe the two different Internet Telephony approaches available today. So I decided to make up my own terms:
Table 2-1 shows a quick comparison between the two types of service available. Generally, phone-centric looks much more like the telephone system you're used to, while computer-centric offers lower cost and new features for users who rely most on their computer (desktop or portable).
When you check the various broadband phone providers (there are nearly 500), you will read an enormous amount of overactive marketing materials (okay, hype). Seemingly every phone service provider calls themselves a revolutionary breakthrough in the history of human communications. They are wrong.
Phone-centric service providers look quite a bit like traditional phone companies. They have centralized systems, like the old telephone company switches, but they use data-networking routers to transfer calls rather than huge traditional telephone switches. They use broadband (the coaxial wire used by cable providers or the telephone lines used by DSL providers) wires for their phone connection rather than the two-pair copper wire used by the traditional phone companies, but it's still wire. When providers start running fiber optic cable to each home for truly high bandwidth broadband service so they can sell us more services like video on demand, it's still a physical wire coming into the home. These companies claim they revolutionize the telephone, but they are only an improvement, not a revolution, in the technical world.
Note: Acronym AlertDSL = Digital Subscriber Line, the telephone company's broadband technology.
Computer-centric service providers looked at the technology from a new angle: put all the intelligence in the end devices (computers of one kind or another rather than telephone handsets) and let each caller connect directly to their desired callee over the Internet. In other words, they have the minimal amount possible of centralized services (a listing of other users using authentication software to track them when they log into the service) while doing everything possible on a peer-to-peer basis. These companies claim they revolutionize voice communications, and they have reworked the traditional telephone model into something new by focusing on the voice part of the equation rather than the hardware part. They may be right.
Note: Revolution, EvolutionIn marketing, your company is always revolutionary while your competitors are always evolutionary. For example, your competitor is evolutionary because they slapped a new coat of paint on their product, but you are revolutionary because you redefined technology through color differentiation. Yes, that's a new coat of paint on the product, spun by marketing folks.
One way to illustrate the two major different approaches concerns the focus of each technology. Phone-centric services put the focus on the telephone and on re-creating your traditional phone experience as much as possible. Computer-centric services focus on the computer as a means to transmit voice, as well as other data. Unfortunately, the dividing lines go out of focus on a regular basis, and will continue to do so as new products enter the market with new features.
Drilling down a little, let me show you three different ways that combine the two major methods with a few twists here and there:
Confusing? A little bit, but the consumer market for broadband phone calls still needs to mature. Some of the "gee-whiz" announcements flying out of small companies today may never become real products or services. Many of the companies making the most noise today will be bought by older, more established telephone companies tomorrow. But the technologies have pretty well stabilized (even if some of the implementation details haven't), so you can make a choice today that will still provide excellent service next week and next year. And if you choose
Note: Too Many Choices?Companies announce new twists on these major options seemingly every day. Sometimes the twist is to put the computer software into a special phone (often called a digital phone), and sometimes the twist is to divert your existing phone line so that it connects to a broadband provider's office instead of the phone company's central office (they convert the analog phone signal into a digital data stream at their office rather than using special equipment in your house). And sometimes your digital phone is a combination of a wireless network data connection and a traditional cell phone, letting you choose which service you prefer if more than one is available at your location.
wrong, number portability will let you change services and keep your number in most cases, making it simple to recover and start afresh with a new service provider.