How could VoIP be worse than cellular?

The other day, when a colleague called me back for the third time from his cell phone after several jags of a monosyllabic, staccato, and utterly incomprehensible conversation, I finally exploded. " Why do we, as consumers, put up with this? " I demanded, patience never having been one of my strongest character traits.

He didn't have a ready answer.

A day or so later, I received a voicemail from someone trying to efficiently multitask from her cell phone while obviously seated in a moving vehicle. Same thing - a word here, a word there. Just enough to let me know the call was really, really important, but not enough to give me the basic information I needed to act. Like a name and phone number.

Unfortunately, this level of service is status quo for cellular service in the U.S. We've learned to tolerate it, because it's all we have, it's now quasi-affordable, and we do love our mobility. But I got to wondering…for all the agonizing we do about quality-of-service issues confronting IP voice services, how bad can voice over IP (VoIP) possibly be, compared with what we've become accustomed to putting up with in the cellular world?

For this inferior service (and it really doesn't seem to matter which provider you use), we have the privilege of paying a lot more for mobile calls than PSTN (public switched telephone network) calls and a real lot more than for Internet calls. Sure, mobile prices have plummeted, but they're still averaging about three times the per-minute charges in this country for PSTN service. And once you have Internet access, well, voice is basically free.

These thoughts drove me to the Web site of Telephia, a company that, in addition to offering wireless network performance monitoring services to operators, conducts some end user research. Imagine my surprise when I found that research released by Telephia in mid-July, in conjunction with the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), stated that " on average wireless customers, in core and suburban areas, can expect to place, hold and complete a conversation of acceptable audio quality 96 percent to 99 percent of the time. " I was stunned. So what is the actual status of cellular service quality out there? Vote with your experiences, folks. I'll be sure to pass on your satisfaction levels to the mobile industry as some free research for them.

Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Campbell, California, who has spent most of her career analyzing trends and news in the computer networking industry. She welcomes your comments on the articles published in this newsletter, as well as your ideas for future article topics. Reach her at joanie@jwexler.com.

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