Do you VOIP?
Everybody wants to talk on the telephone, but no one wants to pay for it. Early phone service resembles modern communication technology like The View resembles The U.S. Supreme Court. Much has changed since great-grandma refused a to permit a telephone in her home because she feared death by electricity leakage.
VOIP has emerged as a viable technology for making and receiving almost-free telephone calls. It works, mostly. It's not perfect and it's not without hidden charges, but many customers couldn't be happier. Cutting loose the local phone company inspires a state of blissful nirvana akin to getting a matching set of Green Bay Packer 2010-2011 Championship season garden gnomes for your birthday.
What is VOIP?
First, the pronunciation.
For the middle of the word, use the word 'boy' as a template for the 'oy' component. Say v-oy-p.
VOIP is an acronym contrived by computer nerds, therefore not well suited for commercial consumption. It's not a product, it's a technology in the public domain. No one owns the word. Marketing mavens certainly could come up with something better, but it's too late. Given focus groups, trademark lawyers, and Ivy League advertising agencies where everyone looks like Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, "VOIP" would be replaced with a rhythmic rhyme impossible to forget or mispronounce. Thankfully we can move past perception and get on with reality.
It stands for Voice Over IP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol.
Break it down...
Voice Over Internet Protocol : let us examine this splendiferous acronym in excruciating detail.
Voice : The spoken word. The sounds that come out of your mouth and must be transmitted through the telephone.
Over : If this preposition stumps you, you're already in way over your head. Go back to watching The View.
IP : We computer nerds rarely actually say the entire phrase, Internet Protocol. We sound much cooler by shortening it to IP. When we stand in line together at Starbucks, discussing arcane technical issues while waiting to order overpriced caffeine delivery systems, we always say IP. You, too, can join our club.
What is IP?
IP, or Internet Protocol, is a roadmap for data. It's the GPS of the Internet. When your data wants to get from your computer to Google's computer, IP figures out the best route. Some smart people in the mid 1970's introduced it to the engineering world.
IP is everywhere these days. Any device hooked to the Internet depends on some implementation of the protocol. Your car, the soda machine outside the VFW hall, your cell phone, the tablet computer used by the segment producers working diligently to keep The View from being cancelled: each uses some form of Internet Protocol to connect to the World Wide Web.
How does your voice get onto IP?
The big trick, the super-amazing transformation, the conversion from analog speech to digital data packets, takes place in a tiny electrical circuit that costs about 15 cents these days. This gizmo listens to you talk and emits a string of 1's and 0's onto the Internet. From there, IP takes over.
Once converted to a digital representation, your voice is just like any other data traversing the Internet. It's mixed in with videos being downloaded, music being pirated, and episodes of Angry Birds being played on cell phones by special guests waiting in the Green Room of The View.
That's why VOIP is so cheap. Your digital packets of voice trundle through the Internet at virtually no cost to anyone. The hardware is already in place and electrons weigh almost nothing: when you dial up American Idol on your VOIP phone, you are placing an infinitesimally miniscule burden on the infrastructure of the Internet.
What's the Catch?
The catch is that you need an Internet connection to use VOIP. You can order the $19.95 VOIP gizmo on Late Night Television, but don't expect to plug it in and call your friends standing in line at Starbucks unless you already subscribe to the Internet. If you aren't signed up with Time-Warner or AT&T or Comcast, you have purchased a delightful $19.95 electronic contrivance that might otherwise be effective to wedge open a door.
We're just sayin' .
As you watch your favorite TV Pitchman sing the praises and economy of VOIP, keep in mind that what he is selling will indeed digitize your voice, but all those bits will spill out onto your hardwood floor unless the Internet is listening. Your voice needs to trickle out into the real world using the same pathways that iTunes uses to send you Justin Bieber remixes. All information looks the same when it's bundled into data packets and streaming all over the place.