Is It Possible to Make a Conference Call in VOIP Mode?

By Keith Evans

  • Overview

    Voice Over Internet Protocol, commonly known as VOIP, has helped transform the telecommunications industry since its public debut in 1995. By using an existing network of data connections to transmit voice, the technology forced long distance and other telephone service rates to plummet, much to the chagrin of long distance carriers. It is quite useful is business environments, especially regarding conference calls.
  • History

    While forward thinking technophiles tinkered with voice chatting through computer connections as far back as the 1980s, Voice Over Internet Protocol became available to the public in the mid-1990s. A company known as Vocaltec introduced a commercial software package in 1995 that used microphones and computer sound cards to transmit and receive voice across Internet connections. As connection speeds increased and broadband began to proliferate, more and more companies emerged with some form of VOIP service. In 1998, voice traffic accounted for as much as 1% of American data on the Internet. As the technology matured and rates began to fall for high-speed access, VOIP became increasingly popular; by 2008, the Internet voice telephone market had reached more than $8 billion.
  • Function

    Contrary to traditional circuit-based telephone configurations that transmit voices as electrical currents over a dedicated path, VOIP service works by dividing sound into small packets of data suitable for transmission across the Internet. These packets, destined for a VOIP-to-POTS (plain old telephone service) gateway near the called party, are assigned a sequence number and address for the gateway then dispatched onto the Internet. As the packets, which may have been routed through any number of paths toward their destination, begin to arrive at the gateway, they are reassembled into their original order, decoded into sound, and delivered to the called party either directly through the Internet or across a POTS telephone line. When the called party speaks, the same process happens in reverse.

  • Conference Calls

    Because VOIP-to-POTS gateways can handle many simultaneous conversations, VOIP service is ideal for conducting conference calls or any telephone meeting where many users want to participate. As each party connects, his or her voice connection is assigned a unique address and packets of data begin to flow freely between the conference call server (or individual multi-line telephone set) and the individual user.
  • Benefits

    There are numerous benefits to VOIP technology. Because VOIP gateways or conference call servers are electronic, they often support advanced communication features such as digital confirmation of call attendance, online information about the call in real-time, and electronic call recording. In addition, VOIP inherently carries packets of data, so properly equipped users can also use the service to share video or, if available, exchange data files with other connected users. Of course, the most considerable benefit of VOIP connections is the reduced expense; because VOIP technology largely eliminates long-distance charges, VOIP conference calls can be conducted at a fraction of the cost of traditional calls.
  • Considerations

    Despite the numerous advances made in VOIP technology and the tremendous benefits it offers, there are some considerations to keep in mind when conducting VOIP conference calls. Not the least of these considerations is the non-regulated nature of VOIP service; while traditional telephone connections must meet federal requirements on availability and reliability (as well as call quality), VOIP is not subject to these same regulations. In the absence of quality regulations, some users may occasionally experience latency (a delay between speaking and being heard), packet loss (dropped portions of the conversation), or jitter (a condition in which packets do not arrive at the VOIP gateway in the correct order, often producing an electronic "robot" sound effect). VOIP, too, is largely dependent on routers or other specialized hardware to convert voice and sound to electronic data packets, and this hardware may be unavailable in a power loss situation. Even with these considerations in mind, however, VOIP remains a viable and practical alternative to traditional telephone service for many customers.
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