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Telephones: So Last Millenium

One night, I did something with my wife that even in my most depraved and open-minded youth I never dreamed myself capable of: We conversed, long distance, using only our laptops. Okay, not what you expected but at least I have your attention. Now, let’s discuss VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone systems.

What is VoIP and why might you need it? I’m glad I asked. Essentially, VoIP is either a regular phone, hooked up to a high-speed Internet (like Vonage) or just the computers themselves (a la Skype). You might not have heard much about VOIP because it’s poised to put two in the back of the head of telephone communication as we know it – it’s the electric car of the telecom world. However, if you have a high-speed hook-up and wish to lower your phone bills (up to 90 percent, they claim), make numerous long distance or international calls, run a small business (or band) with high phone overhead, or are among the moguls who live outside the U.S. who need an in-country number, VoIP is worth investigating.

At least as many bells and whistles we pay phone companies for are available for free on most VoIP systems. Among the many features persuading thousands daily to abandon their landline beliefs in favor of The Church Of The VoIP: keeping one’s current phone number, adding virtual numbers, portability, and nearly unlimited, cheap (sometimes even free) local, long distance, and international calls.

Providers are proliferating like post-precipitation porcini while battling for your buck. In your quest for the perfect provider, however, beware of “featuritis” (an inflammation of the gimmegimme gland). Rather than predicating your choice on the overwhelming number of cowbells, octobans, and China cymbals offered by competing companies, seek out the plan whose amenities you’ll actually need and use.

Once you’ve found the provider that’s right for you, then you can start pimpin’ your plan. Perhaps a web cam for that touch of intimacy? Many new computers come equipped with built-in cameras, mikes, and speakers. And if not, they can be had for a song. Web cams range from $9.99 to $750 (which must come with some kind of facelift lens). Oh, and you might want to consider the dubious privacy of cam-calls before you, ahem, explore their full potential.

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