The USR 9600 phone was instantly recognized by our system and the drivers take merely seconds to install. We had previously installed the latest version of Skype prior to receiving the USR 9600. It really couldn't be any easier to use. We did a worldwide search for other available Skype users with telephony ability and found friends in Poland, France, India and elsewhere. In fact, that's one of the coolest things about Internet telephony. It's not so much about replacing your current phone service but rather it's a really great way to connect to people in other countries for free. And in some developing countries it may serve as the only form of voice communications, especially for long distance and inter country calling.

The sound quality of the USR 9600 is excellent. However, because of the nature of Internet telephony, the quality of the data being passed back and forth is not so predictable. Sometimes a call sounds crystal clear. Other times, dropouts and lots of noise are the norm. During a couple of calls the delay became a major problem so we simultaneously typed our messages. I would talk on the phone and get a text reply. It was interesting because even though the quality of the call wasn't always great I could here my friend tapping on the computer keys and that added a whole new dimension to the IRC chat. Then when the network seemed to be working better we would switch back to phone conversation.

The USR 9600 gets along very well with Skype. With a good connection you would be hard pressed to believe you're making a completely free call over the Internet. USR has included modern telephony technologies such as echo cancellation, noise reduction, caller ID and date and time display. The 9600 is also compatible with both USB 1.1 and 2.0 ports. However, we recommend installing a USB 2.0 card and stick with a chipset from NEC, VIA or TI. Avoid using a USB 2.0 add-in card that uses the ALI chipset common in computer superstores.

So what's the deal with voice over IP' Are people really going migrate to this all you can eat service that's a subset of their broadband carrier' Well, it's already happening but there are many challenges. IP or Internet Protocol is designed primarily for the transmission of data where delays and the occasional loss of a few packets may not always be critical. So packets take many different routes, none of them necessarily the shortest, to their destination. That's fine for most data applications but for voice communications it results in an asynchronous phone conversation that can be both perfect and intolerable during the same call.

When Vocaltec introduced the world to the idea of Internet phone calls nearly 10 years ago it was considered a novelty at best. Initially you needed a decent sound card, a separate microphone and preferably headphones to make calls without feedback. Well, now it's officially moved beyond the novelty phase. More than 70 million people have downloaded Skype's free software and it adds nearly 200,000 registered users everyday. With products like the USR 9600 it's easier than ever before to experiment with making telephone calls over the Internet. Just plug it in and it works. The adds up to a whole lot of free fun for everyone and if you make a few new friends in Morocco while your at it, well, that can't be all bad.

Visit US Robotics for more information about the 9600 USB phone and other products.
Visit Skype for more information about its software and services.