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One of the most powerful things about Internet technology is the fact it is data-neutral. The Internet Protocol, or IP, was designed to route data to and from different computers on a network without regard for what was actually being transmitted. This was a departure from the prevalent analog technologies popular at the time the Internet was invented. Television and radio, for example, relied on either sound or picture data, or both. However, a radio could not pick up a television broadcast, nor could a television tune to a radio station.
On the Internet, however, data is transmitted in packets, and neither the sender nor the receiver need worry about what exactly is contained in those packets. The only goal for IP networked computers is that the data is transmitted accurately and in a standardized format.
Once Internet Protocol became a functioning and practical technology, it was only a matter of time before it began to be used to transmit voice communications, like the telephone network. This gave rise to a new protocol called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VOIP.
From Analog to Digital
The original telephone network came to be known by its own acronym in the digital age. That acronym was POTS or “plain old telephone system.” The original telephone network was based on analog transmission of voice, where sound was converted into an electrical signal which was then sent to a receiver that converted that signal back into sound.
VOIP phone technology performs the same conversion, with one extra step. When a VOIP client records a speaking voice, it converts the sound into numbers and the network then converts those numbers into an electrical or optical signal. When the information arrives at the receiver, the signal is converted back into numbers and the receiver converts the numbers into sound.
The result, especially for relatively uniform sounds like human voices, is often a clearer and higher quality communication standard. The network itself doesn’t function like the POTS telephone network, but the results are similar enough that the process of “placing” a call on a VOIP network vs. a POTS network is almost as easy as sending an e-mail.
Once the transition from analog to digital was complete, it was only a matter of time before the combination of digital tools and technology and “Internet phone calls” combined to offer options that were literally beyond reach with the telephones of the 20th century. Voice over Internet Protocol can take advantage of any feature that other kinds of data can.
For example, a VOIP “call” can include virtually any number of participants, whether it be an NYC criminal lawyer or a Long Island divorce lawyer. VOIP is no more expensive or difficult to use continent-to-continent than it is to use across the street. VOIP can also contain any other kind of data like text or video, meaning that once a call is underway, if the clients can display them, VOIP users can send each other video, music, text, applications, images or nearly anything that can be transmitted as data. This capability in particular is what makes online meeting software possible, since a call could include ten people all transmitting both voice and data to each other.
It remains to be seen what will come out of the synthesis of voice communication and the Internet Protocol. There are likely already projects underway that can improve both technologies, and in the process make things possible that are as amazing as VOIP was to the analog world only a few years go.