Monday, October 23, 2006

Fire the Phone Company by Dave Field

The title sounds pretty enticing…how to fire the phone company. The book is about Voice Over IP, or VoIP, which is a technology that allows voice chat over the Internet. Even though the book is copyright 2006, it really felt dated. That’s probably because this is such a fast moving field. No mention was made of some of the more innovative products out today such as the usb flash based phone from Vonage nor any info about Skype being bought by ebay. Unfortunately, the book also completely ignored Apple’s very high quality entry into VoIP—iChat AV.

The book’s subtitle is “A Handy Guide to Voice Over IP.” Not to nitpick, but I wouldn’t call it a guide, rather a overview. The book gave the reader a brief yet complex overview of the history of VoIP communications. The book took a simple straightforward subject and overwhelmed the reader with hundreds of acronyms (I actually started counting). Most of the acronyms, while interesting, are completely impractical as a guide. These acronyms have little usage for the average person wanting to dump the phone company. In addition, I think the book unnecessarily scared readers away from using VoIP. Too much time was spent on technical details such as home wiring or firewalls. In reality, this stuff generally works out of the box with little configuration from the user.

Based on the cover and title, I expected more of a guide on what options for VoIP were out there and which company would be right for me. Field did provide a chapter on how to compare VoIP companies, but left all the research to the reader. While I respect that if he included recommendations, they might change by presstime, but too often in the book instead of offering practical advice, he simply suggested that readers use Google to do their own research.

Personally, ever time I’ve used VoIP solutions, they work! I didn’t have to configure firewalls, check the wiring in my house, it worked like a charm. Same for any customer I’ve worked with. I almost wondered…does he work for the phone company…and is he being paid to scare readers. I don’t think he researched his subject very well, and he based all his recommendations on personal experience. Again, this stuff isn’t rocket science. I can confidentially say it’s harder to secure a wireless router than to chat with someone over the internet

Field did do a decent job of giving readers who want to switch to VoIP descriptions of realistic problems and how to handle them, most notably how to establish 911 access and how to switch your land line number to your VoIP number.

Buy this book if you need a historical overview of VoIP for your computer classes, but as a guide for someone wanting to switch to making phone calls over the Internet—avoid this book because it will needlessly scare you.

Pros: Great if you own stock in AT&T/SBC, as people will be afraid to fire the phone company
Cons: Endless fear mongering and complexity inaccurately portrays the ease in which you can fire the phone company