What is a Wifi Internet Phone?

By: Nat Jay

For long, free services like Skype have been associated with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) -- i.e., using your computer and a broadband internet line to make long-distance phone calls. Basically, what you used to pay for before came to you for free.

However, the main problem with such a service was, you had to be connected to a computer to place the call, and be right there for the duration of the call. Sort of like the 'landline' -- you could move around, but you couldn't move away. So VoIP, despite its usefulness, was not portable.

That was until companies like Netgear, UTStarcom, ZyXEL and Linksys decided to do something about it -- They built WiFi phones.

With WiFi phones, VoIP could go portable. So no more computers required, and you could move around (or away) while you talk, and still be 'online'.

WiFi phones are like cell phones. But instead of using regular carriers like Cingular or Nextel, they use Internet-friendly WiFi networks, and open protocols like SIP, to place your calls.

Unlike a regular phone that transmits voice in the analog form (as is, without converting them), WiFi phones convert your voice into a digital format and transmit them as packets of binary data to a wireless receiver. The receiver then passes the information over the Internet to the call processor. Throughout the process, IP addresses are used in the place of phone numbers to initiate, connect and end the call. These IP addresses act as direction maps for your call -- just like when you log on to the Internet and type a web address go to a site.

The concept of WiFi phones (and the associated technology) is still quite new. The preference so far has been to use wifi-enabled laptops and smartphones to log on to a local "hotspot" -- maybe at a Starbucks or a city mall -- and surf the Internet wirelessly. Using a similar system to make voice calls at lower than market rates (even free) in a city-wide zone, is still in a nascent stage.

But the fact remains that WiFi is a simple, efficient and economical technology. It's also downright brilliant. Why? Because it has strong roots in digital convergence -- the idea of combining as one many of the functions, protocols, services and standards that baffle us, and offering a core solution for simplifying technology itself, a need echoed by today's multitasking world. And as this technology grows and its pluses sink in, it's only a matter of time before WiFi becomes the de facto choice and centerpiece of mobile communication.

VOIP
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