Monday, May 09, 2005

Internet Phones Arrive at Home (and Some Need No Computer)

The New York Times: "A few years ago, a buzz began spreading about Internet telephony, a technology allowing telephone conversations to be made across the Internet rather than exclusively over regular phone lines.

More recently, Internet phone technology - also known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP - made inroads into businesses using heavy-duty equipment from companies like Cisco.

Now, thanks to providers like Vonage and others, it has found its way into the home. The service is sometimes choppy, but costs are low and quality is satisfactory for routine calls. Moreover, Internet protocol lends itself to inexpensive videoconferencing as well, useful for informal video chats between friends or business associates.

An example of a videoconferencing option that requires no computer is the Broadband Video Phone from Packet8 ( At $99, this may be the best overall choice for VoIP enthusiasts; it offers fully functional video and audio calling at low cost.

The device looks much like an office phone but has a pop-up screen and can also be hooked up to a television. Its video quality is good but not great - flawless at times, but capable of quickly degrading, especially if either party moves quickly.

As a phone, though, it sparkles. It is hard to tell it is not a regular land line, and that factor separates the device from its peers. Also attractive is its ease of setup: plug in an Ethernet cable and you're all set. Service for the device runs $19.95 a month for unlimited video calls and unlimited voice calls in the United States and Canada."

I'm very pleased to see this technology finally coming into its own. I tried VOIP a number of years ago in its infancy and it turned out quite helpful to a friend who lost his father and was able to call back and forth to the Midwest several times a day to help his mother with funeral arrangements and afterward as she adjusted to living alone.