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CNNdotCOM: Internet telephony
(CNN) -- Low-quality connections haven't stunted the growth of the Internet telephony market.
The emerging technology, which allows users to place telephone calls using a computer, has its advantages and disadvantages, according to Aoife McEvoy, senior associate editor at PC World.
"You sound like you're on a cell phone that might be running low," McEvoy said. "Other times you can't hear anything at all. So the quality is very inconsistent and unpredictable."
However, Internet telephony's draw is that it's free. And as access to high-speed connections improves, so will the experience of telephoning online.
You probably already have the system requirements necessary: sound card, speakers, Internet connection and a browser. You'll also need at least a 28.8 Kbps modem. A faster modem or DSL will provide better sound quality and so will using a headset instead of a microphone to speak.
While you can use this equipment for free long distance calling, the person receiving the call doesn't have to.
"That's one of the great things about telephony services today," McEvoy said. "You can call somebody who isn't even near a computer, and they don't have to own one."
You place your calls using the Web site of an Internet telephony service. Sites to look at: iConnectHere.com, Dialpad and I-Link TalkFree. McEvoy recommended iConnectHere.com because it provides an address book and speed dial, as well as the option to download its software. Sound quality improves when you place calls through downloaded software, rather than through your browser.
And placing calls online doesn't mean you have to miss other calls. If you have only one phone line in your house, products like Pagoo CallCatcher and BuzzMe alert you on your computer screen to incoming calls. If the caller doesn't have caller ID blocked, you can see who the caller is. And you can respond by accepting the call or sending the caller a toll-free number.
Analysis: New IP-based protocols will change communication
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