The current Public Switched Telephone Network is a robust and fairly bulletproof system for delivering phone calls. Phones just work, and we've all come to depend on that. On the other hand, computers, e-mail and other related devices are still kind of flaky. Let's face it -- few people really panic when their e-mail goes down for 30 minutes. It's expected from time to time. On the other hand, a half hour of no dial tone can easily send people into a panic. So what the PSTN may lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in reliability. But the network that makes up the Internet is far more complex and therefore functions within a far greater margin of error. What this all adds up to is one of the major flaws in VoIP: reliability.
- First of all, VoIP is dependant on wall power. Your current phone runs on phantom power that is provided over the line from the central office. Even if your power goes out, your phone (unless it is a cordless) still works. With VoIP, no power means no phone. A stable power source must be created for VoIP.
- Another consideration is that many other systems in your home may be integrated into the phone line. Digital video recorders, digital subscription TV services and home security systems all use a standard phone line to do their thing. There's currently no way to integrate these products with VoIP. The related industries are going to have to get together to make this work.
- Emergency 911 calls also become a challenge with VoIP. As stated before, VoIP uses IP-addressed phone numbers, not NANP phone numbers. There's no way to associate a geographic location with an IP address. So if the caller can't tell the 911 operator where he is located, then there's no way to know which call center to route the emergency call to and which EMS should respond. To fix this, perhaps geographical information could somehow be integrated into the packets.
- Because VoIP uses an Internet connection, it's susceptible to all the hiccups normally associated with home broadband services. All of these factors affect call quality:latency, jitter and packet loss. Phone conversations can become distorted, garbled or lost because of transmission errors. Some kind of stability in Internet data transfer needs to be guaranteed before VoIP could truly replace traditional phones
- VoIP is susceptible to worms, viruses and hacking, although this is very rare and VoIP developers are working on VoIP encryption to counter this.
- Another issue associated with VoIP is having a phone system dependant on individual PCs of varying specifications and power. A call can be affected by processor drain. Let's say you are chatting away on your softphone, and you decide to open a program that saps your processor. Quality loss will become immediately evident. In a worst case scenario, your system could crash in the middle of an important call. In VoIP, all phone calls are subject to the limitations of normal computer issues.
One of the hurdles that was overcome some time ago was the conversion of the analog audio signal your phone receives into packets of data. How it is that analog audio is turned into packets for VoIP transmission? The answer is codecs.