When does Internet Telephony Make Sense? (part 2)

(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

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Working on the solutions

Computer and telecom specialists are already working to fix all these problems, even if some of the solutions aren’t ready yet or if some others aren’t applicable yet on a large scale or in all countries.

In March 2005, for example, an industry consortium called VoIP Security Alliance (VOIPSA) formed to study and prevent VoIP security problems. The consortium has already produced, just to help the industry deal systematically with these issues, an official classification of the types of security threats in IP telephony, called Security Threat Taxonomy.

In July 2005 Phil Zimmermann, an expert cryptographer, started to develop a secure VoIP system, called (Zfone http://zfoneproject.com/), which should encrypt conversations and let two users verify each other’s identity before talking, without relying on software whose source code is not open to public scrutiny.

As far as emergency calls are concerned, in May 2005 the United States Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) adopted rules requiring providers of VoIP services that allow a user generally to receive calls from and make calls to the traditional telephone network to supply emergency calling capabilities to their customers as a mandatory feature of the service in the United States by November 2005. These “capabilities” include delivery of all emergency calls to the local emergency call center, together, where possible, with the customer’s call back number and location information.

In practice, depending on the country, some providers just require that their customers log on to their website to provide their current address. In this way, when you place an emergency call it can be automatically forwarded to the emergency call center closer to where you are, hoping that they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Customers, however, would still have to communicate by themselves their new location to their provider whenever they move, even for half a day, if they want the ambulances to be sent where they actually are (obviously assuming that their temporary location is covered by the alternative emergency service). Such solutions are also likely to work with only some versions of some operating system, possibly forcing customers to pay a software and hardware upgrade… to save money thanks to the VoIP service.

What to look for in a VoIP offer

The first thing to check when shopping for a VoIP service is the equipment it requires or provides to make or receive VoIP calls. Is it just a software program to install on a computer? If yes, is it compatible with the hardware and software that you already own? If it is an actual phone or any other physical device, does it work also during a black-out? Does it work only through an Internet connection, or only when attached to a running computer?

Unless a VoIP service has none of these limits, it is better to also keep a traditional phone line, either fixed or cellular, and make sure that everybody in the household, including children and babysitters, know which phones are connected to a VoIP line and avoid calling emergency services through it.