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CIT 361: Week 14

VoIP, Video Conferencing,
& Streaming Media

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Voice over IP, more commonly known as VoIP is the ability to have voice conversations via the Internet. The most popular version of this service is offered by Vonage. However, there are a number of alternatives such as those provided by Ooma, Magic Jack, PhonePower, and others. With most of these services one can call not only other users of the service but anyone using any telephone service throughout the world and usually at much lower rates, especially international calls.

Some, like Vonage, have a flat monthly fee that covers most calls to anywhere in the world. Others, like Ooma, require a fairly large upfront equipment purchase but are then basically free to use after that. All of these services are very low cost, much lower than traditional phone rates, and usually cover any long distance calls, even overseas calls, as part of the basic package. So, if your primary communications is with others who have a "phone number" whether it is a cellphone or a land line, then one of these services may meet your needs.

Video Chat & Video Conferencing

As an alternative to voice communications we can now do video chat and conferencing via the Internet which allows two way and even multiparty video conversations in real time. Skype is the most well known of these services and blurs the line between video and audio calls by also providing VoIP connections to phone lines for similarly low fees. However, there are a number of alternatives to Skype including Apple's Facetime, Google Talk (1 to 1), Google Hangouts (multiparty videoconferencing), Viber, Tango, Zoom.us, Ekiga, Cisco TelePresence, Oovoo, and others. If you review the Wikipedia links in the heading to this section you will see that video calls have a long history and even longer fictional presence.

Streaming Media

Streaming media has been available via the Internet for many years now for audio (mp3, aac, etc.) and video (H.264 & others). When most people think of streaming media they often first think of YouTube and Netflix. However, Vimeo is an up and coming challenger to YouTube while Netflix has significant competition with Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Google Play, Redbox Instant, Xbox Video, and Apple's iTunes.

The Problem(s)

There are a number of difficulties that services such as these must deal with such as intellectual property rights issues, last mile bandwidth, quality of services and others. However, to my way of thinking there is one overriding concern, e.g. what some have called the balkanization (definition 2) of the Internet.

Contrary to all we have studied so far about TCP/IP, where everyone submits ideas to the various Internet committees for new protocols and these are debated and improved (or dropped) then adopted by and for all to use. So, with email as an example, it does not matter if you prefer hotmail, gmail, yahoo mail, frontiernet.net, or any other email service we can all exchange messages and use our preferred client software. Unfortunately, with the exception of some of the VoIP services mentioned, the services mentioned this week do not work with each other and are in fact designed to be incompatible with each other and there is no current attempt being made to bring video chat/conferencing, streaming media, etc. under some common protocol. If you want a movie that only Amazon Prime offers then you must use their client software even if you usually get your videos from Netflix. If you want to have a video chat with a friend using your iPhone (with Facetime) but they use an Android phone (with GTalk, aka Google Talk) then you both must get a "compatible" alternative like Skype that will work on both mobile devices.

There is huge potential for more innovation on the Internet and in this lesson we briefly mention just a few of the newer service and their (at least currently) proprietary protocols. I am sure that as the years go by there will be many other new services developed for delivery via the Internet. What would you like to see come at you from the Internet? What problems do you think are issues that should be addressed? I do not think there is any shortage of material for you to write about in this week's discussion.