Voice chatting programs have been around for many, many years. CoolTalk, a program bundled with Netscape Navigator, was one of the first. Others followed, including Net2Phone, all of today’s popular IM networks, NetMeeting, and others. All of these solutions have one thing in common, however – they don’t really work all that well.
Thanks to a friend, I think I’ve found the future of the telecom industry – Skype (it rhymes with “type”). Like its competitors, Skype is a voice-over-IP application. It has text-based chatting as well. What sets Skype apart, however, is it’s peer-to-peer architecture.
P2P, for those of you who don’t know, is a way of transmitting data from user to user, rather than downloading it from a central server. It has a number of important benefits, including the ability to more effectively utilize bandwidth. As a network grows to service more and more users, its capacity grows simultaneously, ensuring there are always enough resources to handle the load. This reduces costs for everyone and usually increases performance significantly.
Skype, a project by the folks that created the [in]famous file-trading network KaZaA, uses P2P algorithms to maximize bandwidth and reduce latency. This, combined with a spectacular compression algorithm, allowed me to talk with my significant other, through a restrictive firewall, at better-than-telephone quality. Neat!
If you have loved ones beyond your local calling area, I would recommend giving Skype a try. Don’t worry, it’s not illegal any more than KaZaA is (the important thing is how you use software, not the mere fact that you use it).