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VoIP Questioned 375

Posted by Hemos
from the of-course-it-has-problems dept.
87C751 writes "C|Net is carrying a very FUDdy story on the downside of VoIP telephony. Alongside the reasonable point of 911 dialing being unavailable during service and power outages, the writeup mentions broadband over power lines as a possible solution to the power failure problem. (talk about your cognitive dissonance!) It also notes that VoIP customers may not be listed in the local phone book, causing problems with "major fast food companies" (do they mean pizza deliveries?), and that Tivo requires a POTS line for initial setup (which sounds like Tivo's problem, not VoIP's)."
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VoIP Questioned

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  • by mbottrell (702614) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:28AM (#9738223)
    Seems VoIP is still in it's infancy...

    I'll be waiting for it to move out of Gen-1 status to the Gen-2 or Gen-3 devices.

    What amazes me is the lack of talk regarding the security of these devices...
  • What a crock of... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by avalys (221114) * on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:30AM (#9738244)
    This is a joke, right?

    All the problems he mentions would certainly be valid points, but only if you're dumb enough to completely replace your phone system with VoIP!

    I have VoIP, but I kept one of my POTS lines when I switched. Without long distance service, it costs me a miniscule amount per month, and I can still use it for my TiVo, alarm system, 911, and so on. Everything he brings up is such a non-issue, it's almost funny.

    The only valid point he has is that it's difficult to get yourself listed in the phone book, but that's not a technical issue and should be resolved shortly.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:30AM (#9738255) Homepage Journal
    Well, I guess that solves the problem of your internet connection being up while your power is down. I don't think it's going to help you much, though. I have an alternate solution, and it's called a UPS. Of course, if your ISP doesn't have their equipment on a battery backup, then you're screwed. Mediacom in Lake County, CA seems to have a very short-life battery backup on some of their hardware, because their network would actually go down before my UPS ran out (only a 650VA, and I had a 19" monitor at the time, plus an Athlon Tbird 1.4GHz) when the power failed, which is a common occurrence there.
  • by webword (82711) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:30AM (#9738256) Homepage
    Any new technology will face the exact same *kind* of issues. Users won't like it because of x, y, or z. The real issue isn't the technology itself but how well the businesses manage it, promote it, and so forth. Similarly, if usability doesn't improve, the issues in the article will become quite real and slow (or stop) any real progress in the market, and that would be the real crime.
  • by Mr Guy (547690) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:31AM (#9738267) Journal
    What, that if your computer is off it can't send information, but it'd still be able to send information over power lines?

    How exactly do they intend to maintain a network over powerlines if the power lines are down, and if the powerlines supply the power to the datacom devices that are transmitting over them?
  • by a_nonamiss (743253) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:33AM (#9738291)
    I've never been a big fan of the VoIP. Seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. I understand with large companies out there that run thousands of lines out a building, but for residential use, it just doesn't make sense. Am I missing something? My boss asked me if we should implement a VoIP solution for our (15-person) company, and my reaction has always been why? We already get dirt cheap (practically free) unlimited long distance, local calls, plus we have an analog phone switch that works fine. I have been seeking enlightenment in this issue since the idea first came out. My theory is that it involves people with too much time on their hands...
  • by sporkboy (22212) <maddog AT jerky DOT net> on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:33AM (#9738296) Homepage
    Strange, I have a cellphone and they deliver to me all the time. In fact, I ordered from a friend's house in a different area code using my cellphone and they had my name on record (printed on the label) and no problems. Sounds like you got a bad-egg Dominos.
  • Tivo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas@@@dsminc-corp...com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:33AM (#9738298) Homepage
    Funny I just setup my brand new DirecTV HD Tivo via a vonage line. No special codes, no special hardware (just what Vonage sent me a Cisco ATA) no fax line option. Realy what it is is persistances I probably redialed 20 times before it worked. My Googling for help led me down all sorts of roads with prefixes even plugging it into my fax line via vonage.

    What it seems to come down to is packet loss I've been told that Packet loss is what kills modem connections over VoIP and that Vonage can alter your packet size to help compensate. I was trying late afternoon and had issues my Tivo has since automaticaly dialed up and is fine on Vonage probably due to the low packet loss in the early morning. I didnt even have to call vonage. It dosent work well but it does work.

  • emergencies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mqx (792882) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:35AM (#9738314)

    Your 48v (?) POTS line continues to provide current during emergency because the telco has backup power supply: there's virtually no complexity on the user side (the phone is powered from the line, and analogue phones are dead simple and largely robust electromechanical device).

    On the other hand, even if your telco can keep PPP up during an emergency, and even if the telco pulled out 911 VOIP at the exchange and routed it on high availability circuits to operators to minimise internetworking failures, you still have the horrendous problem at the user side: i.e. complex customer home equipment that runs off domestic power that has large number of failure modes.

    Even mobiles are better in an emergency (i.e. handsets have portable power, and the basestation and infrastructure has emergency power + failover features).

    So even if you get QoS and all other other things in place to make VOIP really work: how the hell are you going to ensure high availability?

    Otherwise, VOIP is going to great for multimedia conferencing and everything else.

  • Also (Score:2, Insightful)

    by swordboy (472941) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:35AM (#9738317) Journal
    And what about voice spam?

    Your VoIP phone is sitting right there for any spammer to call. Now, there is no cost "barrier" for them to call you from outside the country. Now, most slashdotters will respond that they are l33t enough to create a whitelist-only calling system but the average Joe generally isn't offered this luxury and wouldn't be technical enough to understand how to implement it.

    VoIP will become a new conduit for spam.
  • by tuxlove (316502) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:35AM (#9738321)
    The only valid point he has is that it's difficult to get yourself listed in the phone book, but that's not a technical issue and should be resolved shortly.

    I don't even see that as a problem. I don't want my phone to be listed. My Vonage phone never rings unless it's someone I have given my number to!
  • Social Change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by millahtime (710421) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:36AM (#9738329) Homepage Journal
    I would say it's less of a biz issue and more of a social issue. Most of society didn't grow up with the kinds of technology advancement we have today.

    There is also what I have been told many times. "We've always done it that way, why change." Most people don't like change and that is a big change.
  • by ZeroGee (796304) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:36AM (#9738331)
    All the problems he mentions would certainly be valid points, but only if you're dumb enough to completely replace your phone system with VoIP!

    But that's exactly what VoIP SHOULD be -- a replacement for standard land-line telephony. Why should we settle (and adopt!) a system that requires you to keep, even at small cost, another phone system that goes through the traditional switching network in order to be able to use alarms, 911, etc.? Instead, VoIP should be improved where it can do everything the telephone system can do, and then we can do away with that antiquated network and use broadband everywhere.
  • Re:911 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mqx (792882) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:38AM (#9738362)
    "If my VoIP doesn't work, chances are my POTS phones isn't working either."

    Very wrong. Your VOIP can easily fail because of so many domestic conditions, while the telco easily continues to send you 48v + current in the local loop.

    "If I needed to dial 911, I'd use my mobile phone rather than the POTS/VoIP one, because it's in my pocket all the time, I'd be able to get the call made faster. I don't see this being an issue for most people."

    Wrong again: the penetration of mobile phones is woefully low, and actually of reasonable cost, and not entirely of wide enough coverage. On the other hand, POTS two wire is just about everywhere and entirely dead cheap and simple for everyone to use.

    POTS is not going anywhere for a long time, even if its market share will decline.

  • by tdemark (512406) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:38AM (#9738367) Homepage
    What amazes me is the lack of talk regarding the security of these devices

    Yeah, because the security of cell phones and cordless phones is so rock solid.

    Almost nobody cares that anyone can eavesdrop on their cell and cordless conversations. Why should they care any different about their VOIP ones?

    - Tony
  • by The Importance of (529734) * on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:39AM (#9738375) Homepage
    One of the problems that VoIP doesn't have right now, but will if the INDUCE Act passes is getting Hollywood's approval for innovative new services: Hatch's Hit List #7 - VoIP [corante.com]
  • by johnhennessy (94737) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:41AM (#9738402)
    ... now children, give me a 2000 word essay on VoIP.

    I'd imagine that the bulk of kids these days would probably research the subject matter slightly better.

    This writer clearly has NO IDEA on what he is talking about. Lets see if we can refute everything he says:

    "TiVo, the digital video recording service, for example, requires a standard home phone line to complete the initial setup. Otherwise, you "can't get TiVo,"

    I'm sure TiVo would be absolutely thrilled to use broadband for completing the setup. Just think of all the money they spend on 1800 calls for people to finish the setup. I'm sure they'd also be pretty happy to get viewer stats more or less in real time.

    "That could lead to trouble dealing with businesses such as banks and major fast food companies that often check local phone listings to verify addresses."

    How is this different from not being listed ? Why not raise the point that AT&T / Vonage need to provide a reliable database rather than spreading this line of "Fear".

    "Some home alarm systems have trouble with broadband connections, or their manufacturers don't yet trust the reliability of the Internet."

    The "some" being the companies that are too lazy to use more modern methods for monitoring.

    "During a power outage, a VoIP phone is only as good as any battery backups on hand, because delivering power through the broadband connection isn't possible on a wide commercial basis. An emerging alternative broadband-delivery technique, broadband over power line, will solve this problem, but wide deployment is years away."

    Where do I begin. Complete rubbish. Author probably read an article about it last month, so feels like he has to include it this month, just to get one back on New Scientist.

    From here on in the article, we get a "dump" of interesting facts and other pieces of information that seem to completely go against what the author has just said.

    Complete FUD. I wonder who's paying for the article.

  • by lcsjk (143581) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:45AM (#9738433)
    Yesterday, my daughter told me that she was having trouble hearing me because her next door neighbor's phone conversation was too loud. She even recognized the voice! Don't think for a minute that no one can hear. Even if you are on a wire connection, the other end may not be.
  • by CodeArtisan (795142) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:45AM (#9738438)
    Of course, as soon as VoIP replaces POTS, you can guarantee that the price advantage will also be eliminated.
  • by jallison (693397) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:51AM (#9738513) Journal
    The article is truly awful. Lots of generalities, no specifics. You get things like "a VoIP phone number won't likely be included in most phone directories" and "Protecting your home could get tougher, as well. Some home alarm systems have trouble ..." (emphasis mine). Then there's the Tivo misinformation that others have already commented on.

    This is just poor journalism. Of the complaints raised the 911 issue is the most legitimate due to the lack of location specifics when you dial 911 from a cell phone. The others are either bogus or are actually features to many folks.

  • by wfeick (591200) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:52AM (#9738518)

    I've always gotten around the charge for an unlisted number by simply giving them a bogus name to publish in the book.

  • by stratjakt (596332) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:53AM (#9738534) Journal
    Policies like that are up to the individual managers. If you were losing money because people were constantly being assholes and phoning in fake orders, etc, you might do the same thing.

    Even places with such policies wont care if you've dealt with them before. The lil pizza shop down the road from me has such a policy, but I order from my cell all the time, and they pull my name on the computer, see I've bought hundreds of pizzas and never dicked them around, and have no problem with it.
  • by YetAnotherDave (159442) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:57AM (#9738583)
    >> care to tell me how to eavesdrop on a digital

    sure. right after you let me know how you're planning on intercepting my SRTP-protected VoIP calls...

    True, VoIP security is just beginning to see the light of day, but since we're building on a good base of existing network-security tools it will ramp up fast.

    SRTP rfc: http://zvon.org/tmRFC/RFC3711/Output/index.html
  • by DreadfulGrape (398188) on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:01AM (#9738621)
    "...The Bell operating companies, comprised of Verizon, Qwest Communications International, SBC and BellSouth, prefer to wait until they build high-speed fiber-optic connections to homes for their all-out VoIP launches."

    Uh-huh... we'll all have telepathic brain implants by the time this happens.

  • Re:Let's see (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:03AM (#9738641) Journal
    911 - Cell phones are useless in an emergency. If you lived on the east coast you would have seen this in action on 9/11. And what's the point of using VoIP to replace your POTS if you keep the POTS around in an emergency.

    And then what, I have to train everyone who comes into my home "hey if you need to call 911 you have to use the yellow phone in the den. No, not that phone, it wont work. Has to be this phone." What if I forget to tell someone, and I'm choking to death or having a heart attack, and they're using the wrong phone.

    Phone book - that's great that you dont want to be in there. What if you ran a business, or had any other reason to want to be in there? Not everyone wants to live "off the map".

    Pizza - depends on the store and their management, how much they've been jerked around by cranks, etc..

    Tivo - "roll your own" is only a decent solution to about 0.0000000001% of the population. Fortunately, 99.9999999 percent of the population really dont give a shit about Tivo or think it's as magical and wonderful as slashdot does. They think it's lame to pay a subscription for the same tv listings that scroll non-stop on channel 10 (or wherever the tv guide channel is).

    And, of course, unlimited LD is only a benefit if you make a lot of LD calls. I dont, and I pay 20 bucks a month for my land-line. VoIP really has nothing to offer me but some minor headaches.

  • Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp&gmail,com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:07AM (#9738680) Homepage
    I think that given the commentary, maybe a better headline for this would be "VOIP questioning questioned".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:12AM (#9738719)
    I understand with large companies out there that run thousands of lines out a building, but for residential use, it just doesn't make sense.

    Depends on the residence. Imagine you live in the US and your in-laws live in Australia. Now imagine your phone bill. (I've paid $80-$100 for a 20 to 30 minute phone call before. It's MUCH cheaper to call from Oz to the US.)

    So now we have our standard line and our VoIP line, which we use to call long distance, including to Australia. It's a godsend.
  • by FreeUser (11483) on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:13AM (#9738726)
    I don't even see that as a problem. I don't want my phone to be listed. My Vonage phone never rings unless it's someone I have given my number to!

    Exactly. People pay good money to have their phone number unlisted. This isn't a bug with voip, this is a feature, and an excellent one at that.
  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv.gmail@com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:17AM (#9738756) Homepage
    1) The price of VoIP's thriftiness

    Sounds condescending to me, or designed to be scary, typical tag line to get you worked up over the topic. Passing judgement before the facts are presented.

    2) If you have a home alarm system, need to dial 911, use TiVo or simply want your phone number included in the phone book, you're likely to be out of luck.

    Home alarm system's and TiVo can change. TiVo is a simple non-essential piece of hardware which should change to accomodate such customers as VOIP catches on. Alarm systems will figure a way around this. Of course, if you feel you can expend money on an alarm system for your home, you can probably afford the current rates your phone company is charging. I'm not saying an alarm system is elitist... its just expensive.

    As for phone listing, well damnit who cares? I'll pick up my next pizza. Besides, you can keep your old listing in the phone book when you switch to Vonage and as VOIP catches on this will be taken care of.

    As for 911 dialing during power outages, the article willfully and obviously glosses over the possibility that people might have cell phones. This is what makes me feel this is FUDish, because, while the 911 issue is important, the article failed to cover this very important and obvious point. I believe they were afraid that the original alarmist tone of the article would have been defused because 911 dialing is important to everyone, while all those other points are only important to a select few.

    3) VoIP certainly has it's selling points--unlimited local and long-distance dialing plans that are about 30 percent cheaper than standard services, dialing from any broadband connection and being able to choose a phone number regardless of your location--the TiVo situation if just the tip of the drawback iceberg.

    First, try 50 percent, maybe more. Vonage has a plan for just $15 for 500 talk minutes, anywhere in the country. For local free calling and no special LD plans, Verizon charges me somewhere between $30 and $40.

    Second, what the hell is the last part of that paragraph? It seems so cryptic to me.

    4) Protecting your home could get tougher, as well. Some home alarm systems have trouble with broadband connections, or their manufacturers don't yet trust the reliability of the Internet.

    Back to this a second, this sentences reeks of FUD, because it says "protecting your home could get harder." Not all of us buy alarm systems... goodness! I can't protect my home without a phone? GASP!

    5) 911 calls over VoIP are usually routed through a third party, and there's been the occasional detour to an emergency call center in the wrong part of the country. Because of VoIP's mobility--subscribers can use any broadband connection anywhere--emergency operators won't automatically know where the person's calling from.

    Facts please? I've heard of no such "detours." Can we have some proof to back this up please? Even instances from the slashdot community would be nice.

    And yes, they do tout VOIP as being mobile, and yet 911 calls could be routed back home while you are on the road. However, this will be a learning point for early adopters, but future versions should handle this better. This is by design for the convenience of the customer.

    6) The Bell operating companies, comprised of Verizon, Qwest Communications International, SBC and BellSouth, prefer to wait until they build high-speed fiber-optic connections to homes for their all-out VoIP launches. The so-called fiber-to-the-premises initiatives, however, could take a decade or more to complete.

    Translation: They don't have the infrastructure yet and they don't want to kill their current phone business too fast

    7) Both Cox and Comcast are promising faster VoIP rollouts.

    Translation: they are counting on early adopters so that they can eat the baby bells' lunches.

    8) Despite its drawbacks, VoIP is attractin
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:17AM (#9738759)
    Um.. Phone lines aren't that cheap everywhere. Here in Ireland we get burned pretty badly on landline calls & line rental; VOIP would teach our local ex-monopoly a thing or two about competitive price structures...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:19AM (#9738782)
    Oh, and you can move it around with you.. and make cheap calls using an internet connection in another country. Isn't that useful ? Ever made a long distance call from a hotel ?
  • Re:911 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BonrHanzon (411856) on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:29AM (#9738863)
    I guess you weren't on the east coast of the US during the blackout last August. Most cell phones didn't work - probably due to overload. But POTS worked (at least in NJ), but not if you had only cordless phones. God help anyone who had an actual emergency during the blackout.
  • Re:911 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tigerc (628630) on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:44AM (#9739000)
    If my VoIP doesn't work, chances are my POTS phones isn't working either.

    When was the last time that your land line actually died? Not a "network busy", but just died. No dial tone. No power to the phone? Just died?

    In the age of monoploy of the telephones, we didn't care how much it actually cost. The system was built to last. If the power goes out, so does your VOIP, email, instant messaging, even your cell phone (how towers have battery backup?) But your phone will always be there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @11:45AM (#9739010)
    How many of you now exclusively have cordless phones in your home? You're SOL too if there's a power outage and need to call 911, so how is this any different?
  • by MarkEst1973 (769601) on Monday July 19, 2004 @12:06PM (#9739164)
    911 operators have no way of tracing where you are calling from if you use your cell phone. On the other hand, if you dial 911 on your POTS line and drop the receiver because a bad guy is chasing you around the house, the operators must send the police to your house... and they know exactly where your call is coming from.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:15PM (#9740816)
    Calling 911 doesn't stop a person from dying

    Doesn't it, though? If there is an accident and you are losing blood, a transfusion within 5-15 minutes from an ambulance may well keep you alive, a lot more likely then waiting for someone else, who can't bypass traffic with sirens and such, taking 20 - 30 minutes for medical attention. 911 isn't a perfect service, but saying it can never stop a person from dying is a shortsighted statement, ask some car crash victims if you don't believe me.

    I think you missed the point. 911 doesn't stop people from dying. There was one instance here where someone walked into a house, shot two people, then shot himself. Two were dead quite quickly, one lingered. She called 911. She gave her address and directions to her house. The dispatcher ignored her and sent the help to her address as it showed in the computer. That was not where she was. She gave her location multiple times. It wasn't until someone pointed out to the people on scene (or trying to get on scene) that they knew who she was and where she lived and took them there that they were able to assist. She lay bleeding from the gunshot wounds for an extra 30 minutes or so. 911 with a perfect response would have foud 2 dead and one living. 911 couldn't find her address even after she gave accurate directions because they ignored her, even after the people on the scene reported that they could not find the location.

    In short, 911 doesn't work the way it is touted to work. The "it's better than nothing" excuse still doesn't mean it is as good as it should be or that they tell us it is.

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