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-- by James E. Powell
How long do you think it'll be before you make all your long-distance phone calls over the Internet? With regulatory obstacles being overcome (Newstrends, June 1996), standards being set and new products such as Microsoft's NetMeeting (see WinLab Reviews, this issue) increasing the popularity of Internet conferencing, it may not be very long.
As the technology progresses, consumers may find several reasons for considering this option. First, of course, there's the ease of use. To talk over the Internet, you can just plug a telephone into your PC, rather than tinkering with microphones, sound cards and settings. And then there's the cost: The Internet may help slash your long-distance phone bill since you'll be calling a local ISP.
Large phone companies, including AT&T, MCI and Sprint, are now evaluating software from VocalTec. With this type of program, your calls are transmitted over the Internet without any perceptible difference from conventional phone lines.
Conferencing is still of big interest to corporations. For example, VocalTec's Atrium software lets you conduct audio and data/application-sharing conferences with multiple parties. Meanwhile, Camelot plans a solution that enables full-duplex videoconferencing with only a 28.8 modem. The package includes a Video Talk card and an NTSC color video camera.
And then there's Net-Speak, whose WebPhone is now in version 3.0. It recently announced a series of IP voice-networking products. NetSpeak claims its IP-based voice networks will integrate with the existing Public Switched Telephone Network-bridging the gap between the LAN and the voice network.