Is Internet Telephony Reliable?

TelephoneIn spite of my enthusiasm for VoIP, I realize that it will take some time for it to become pervasive. Not decades — but not in the next twelve months either. I was experiencing some sluggish network performance on the home LAN today and decided to re-boot the router. This is something I don’t do very often (wish I could say the same for Windows XP). Later I realized that my Packet8 SIP phone service was not working and then it dawned on me that I also had to re-boot the Packet8 "terminal adapter" — a small box that connects to the home LAN. It wasn’t a big deal to unplug and replug the device and get things working again but it got me thinking about some of the things we take for granted with the POTS (plain old telephone system).

We never have to re-boot any telephone equipment in our homes and I suspect that business telephone systems rarely require it either. In fact, even with a complete power outage, a $10 telephone plugged into the RJ-11 jack in the wall will usually still work.

Tony Paulson points out that people in a number of areas in Northern Virginia are still without power due to the recent hurricane. For those who got rid of their POTS and are dependent on one of the new SIP phone services, they would also be without communications unless they have backup power for their network equipment. And then there is your ISP — do they have backup power? You would hope so but I suspect some of the smaller ones don’t. And do the cable companies and DSL providers have fault-tolerant backup of their systems? During the recent failure of the power grid, I never lost telephone service and my electricity came back hours before my DSL service. The DSL modem had power but it could not connect to the telephone company equipment.
I think it is fair to say that home broadband connections are not as reliable as the POTS. Yet. And as I said yesterday, there are important services – such as 911 — that are not generally available in the world of VoIP. Yet. It is easy to point out the numerous shortcomings, but let us not miss the bigger point. The power of standards, "grass roots", and the "community" is often underestimated. Just like the Internet and the Web in the mid 1990’s, VoIP is spreading rapidly. It is happening from the bottom up. It is not being throttled by any centralized bureaucracy or oligopoly. The gaps in services and reliability will be filled in through active global competition with funding from venture capitalists. The momentum is beginning to build.