Peer to Peer technology (P2P) first came into focus through companies like Napster and Kazza, who developed file sharing applications that would allow users to share their own files, as well as search for and download files of other users on the network. Instead of relying on a centralized client server relationship, a peer to peer network gets it’s strength from each individual node, adding bandwidth and processing power with each new member for the good of the many.
Much like the Borg of the later Star Trek episodes, peer to peer can scale indefinately without the use of expensive central servers, and from a cost standpoint - resistance is futile!
Peer to peer Internet Telephony is, like Napster, a software application that you download on to your computer from a peer to peer VoIP service provider. The softeware, or soft phone as it is called, is free to download and calls to or from anyone on the network are free. The only hardware you need is a headset, or a microphone and speakers. Internet telephony headsets are cheap and come in USB or can plug directly into your sound cards.
For those with web cams, many providers allow you to make video calls to others on the network for free. Services offered with this technology go above and beyond the Telco’s, with conference calls, call forwarding, instant messaging and chat - peer to peer Internet telephony literaly turns your computer into a telephone/vidiophone communications center.
Like the traditional VoIP providers, calls within the network are free worldwide, but calls to a PSTN number will usualy cost you if it is an option. You can in some cases, have different numbers in other locations so that people can call you from a land line even from other counties toll free. Even if you do have to pay to get on the PSTN, the rates are so much cheaper than a telco.
Just like the other forms of VoIP, developers have had some technological hurdles to overcome. Quality of Service, NATed firewalls, and centralized directories of members using a dynamic IP address are just a few. Also, as calls and instant messages are routed through the public Internet, encryption is a must for any user.
Internet Telephony in Ecommerce
Probably the best known company and indeed a pioneer of peer-to peer Internet telephony is Skype. Originaly founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, two of the innovators behind the P2P network Kazaa, Skype was bought by eBay in late 2005 for 2.6 billion dollars. With over 100 million users according to eBay, it’s safe to say that Skype is the industry leader in peer to peer Internet telephony. Ebay would like Skype to evolve into a “customer service" application, allowing potential buyers to communicate directly to Ecommerce enabled web sites online and in real time.
Peer to Peer and the Gaming Comunity
Another area where the peer to peer idea has taken off is the online gaming community. PeerMe is a peer to peer internet telephony company that caters to gamers, offering PC-to-PC and PC-to handheld voice communications, instant messaging, and peer-to-peer file transfer over public Internet connections. They have recently partnered with game distributor Boonty, offering a broad selection of downloadable games in many languages. Gamers can form communities, evaluate and purchase games, and communicate with friends via voice and text online in real time.
P2P Internet Telephony for Small Businesses
The cost effectiveness of a decentalized peer to peer voip solution has not been overlooked in the business community. Market leader Avaya has developed the one-X Quick Edition line of SIP telephones that is a non server based IP PBX system. Connected to your LAN, each phone contains the software necessary maintain the PBX, and knows about every other phone on the network. An ideal solution for small businesses with many branch offices, the stay at home telecomuter, call centers and customer service centers.
Over at the Gizmo Project they have developed a business software solution that supports the open source Asterik PBX software, and has free calling to anyone on the Gizmo peer to peer network. Under the All Calls Free plan. employees make free calls to the landlines and mobile phones of co-workers in 60 countries.
The biggest advantage of a peer to peer internet telephony solution is the economical start up costs (usualy the price of a headset), and the ability to turn your computer into a world wide communications center. While a “Soft Phone" and a headset is the norm for most providers, hand helds and IP desk phones are rapidly gaining ground in P2P internet telephony. Peer to peer networking for online communication - a technology coming of age for web sites, gamers, and the small business community.
Author Michael Talbert is a certified systems engineer and web site designer. Click for more information on VoIP Service Providers Plans and Services , or visit the website http://www.VoIP-Facts.net . For up to date news, articles and commentary, go to the VoIP-Facts Blog .