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11.4. Internet Telephony

11.4.1. What is it?

Internet telephony, or more common, Voice over IP (VoIP) or digital telephony allows parties to exchange voice data flows over the network. The big difference is that the data flows over a general purpose network, the Internet, contrary to conventional telephony, that uses a dedicated network of voice transmission lines. The two networks can be connected, however, under special circumstances, but for now this is certainly not a standard. In other words: it is very likely that you will not be able to call people who are using a conventional telephone. If it is possible at all, it is likely that you will need to pay for a subscription.

While there are currently various applications available for free download, both free and proprietary, there are some major drawbacks to telephony over the Internet. Most noticably, the system is unreliable, it can be slow or there can be a lot of noise on the connection, and it can thus certainly not be used to replace conventional telephony - think about emergency calls. While some providers take their precautions, there is no guarantee that you can reach the party that you want to call.

Most applications currently do not use encryption, so be aware that it is potentially easy for someone to eavesdrop on your conversations. If security is a concern for you, read the documentation that comes with your VoIP client. Additionally, if you are using a firewall, it should be configured to allow incoming connections from anywhere, so using VoIP also includes taking risks on the level of site security.

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