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Bringing Voice and Data Together With VoIP

Back in 1997, my college roommate and I huddled around a PC tinkering with an obscure computer application that allowed users to talk to one another through an Internet connection. It was sloppy, the lag was terrible and we couldn't really understand what the person at the other end was saying, but we sure thought it was cool.

At the time, my roommate and I were convinced that the technology would mean the death of traditional telephone companies. We envisioned everyone talking through their computers, evading long-distance charges and being able to see a video feed of the person on the other end of the connection.

Today, voice over IP (VoIP) technology is establishing itself as a viable alternative to more traditional hard-line telephony. But, far from bringing about the demise of traditional telephone-service providers, many providers are embracing the technology as an alternative. In some cases, it has even spurred the creation of entirely new companies that specialize in providing VoIP hardware and services for homes and businesses.      

What is VoIP?

Simply stated, VoIP is about bringing together voice and data, essentially being able to "speak" through computers and other devices over IP. Although it can be simply stated now, the goal of voice and data integration has been an ongoing crusade within the IT marketplace since the early 1980s. Limitations in computing power and bandwidth constraints, however, slowed the technology's evolution and adoption.

"IBM has been working toward voice and data integration since the 1980s," says Laura Knapp, IBM* technical evangelist for IP and network management. "Why didn't it work early on? Well, back then we had very different architectures in the voice world and the data world. It wasn't until LANs really took hold and moved into a switched environment in the early 1990s that we could have an integration of the voice and data worlds."

This view of the voice world and data world as separate entities checked the technology's adoption rate. Companies were working toward a means by which to connect those two worlds rather than meld them together into a self-contained system.

"There was a time prior to VoIP that actually led to VoIP, which a lot of people refer to as computer telephony integration (CTI)," explains Alan Smithers, an IT architect for IBM who has extensive consulting experience in telecommunications and VoIP. "You can think of VoIP as being a more evolved state (i.e., running voice traffic over an IP data packet-based protocol) that is different from the CTI precursor. Whereas CTI acknowledged the separate worlds of voice and data and tried to find ways to bridge those worlds using applications, VoIP takes a different approach by combining the two worlds completely."

The Internet boom of the 1990s, coupled with leaps in computer-technology development-including vast improvements in data storage and routing-has helped make VoIP a viable alternative to traditional hard-line telephony.

"What's exciting about VoIP isn't the technology, it's the applications. VoIP opens up a wide range of multimedia applications to the telephony world." -Alan Smithers, IT architect, IBM

Ryan Rhodes is a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine.

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Bringing Voice and Data Together With VoIP

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