Dan Gillmor writes:
When it comes to making voice calls over the Internet, no company has gotten more attention lately than Skype. This is the service that lets people use PCs to make long distance and international calls for no additional charge.
Skype’s developers have earned the praise, given the service’s high quality and ease of use. But they might not be winning such plaudits if it wasn’t for some underlying software they have licensed from a company called Global IP Sound.
The operation, founded in Sweden with headquarters in Stockholm and San Francisco, has its own substantial fan club among the cognoscenti of a technology known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. It’s one of many companies helping to transform plain old phone service into just another Internet service — and not a moment too soon.
Today, the old-monopoly phone carriers are working feverishly to dominate tomorrow’s communications. We desperately need the competition from the emerging upstarts such as Skype and other VoIP players.
As usual in the technology field, Silicon Valley is a focal point for some of the activity. Cisco Systems, the networking company, has been ardently promoting VoIP for several years, for example. And Apple Computer’s iChat AV audio- and video-conferencing system is a marvel of engineering.
Also as usual these days, the valley has plenty of competition from around the world in this arena. Indeed, one of the pivotal VoIP developments came a decade ago from VocalTec, an Israeli company (with a U.S. base in New Jersey) that pretty much launched the idea of making voice calls from one personal computer to another.
VoIP uses the Net’s architecture. It converts our “analog” voices into digital data, zeroes and ones, then breaks up the stream of data into packets that get sent to their destination. There, the packets are reassembled and converted back to an analog form that our ears and brains can comprehend.