The lowdown on IP

What is it? An IP gateway converts analog voice signals to digital, compresses them and transmits them across a data network. In most cases, similar hardware is required at the other end to reverse the process, making the digitized signals intelligible to listeners.

How many do you need? Generally, you need at least two IP gateways'one at each end of the network.

How much does one cost? Analog units with one or two ports can be bought for as little as $500. High-end, scalable units with multiple network interfaces and hundreds of ports can cost $24,000 or even more.

What other types of VOIP gear are available? There are IP routers, servers, PBXs and phones, as well as IP gateways. Some large telecom companies provide comprehensive VOIP solutions that combine these products.

Must-know info? VOIP is still in its infancy, as manufacturers settle on standards and deal with the question of interoperability. As Internet network speeds improve, public acceptance of VOIP will likely increase and the technology could surpass traditional circuit-switched technology for voice and video transmissions. Eventually, use of the Internet could be tiered, meaning users will be required to pay for specific service levels such as VOIP.

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