Bye-Bye Ma Bell
The days of the Bell spin-offs are, as we know them, numbered. Over one hundred years of telephony services and the line between voice, data, and entertainment is just a few years from being completely washed away.

There is no need for me to reiterate the history of the telephone nor the transition from analog to digital telephony services as there are a number of in-depth Wikipedia entries.

But what is important to note is this — you have not, for many years, been hearing the voice of your business associate, family member, nor friend who is speaking to you from across the nation, nor even likely from across town. Rather, you are hearing a digital recreation of the voice.

The transition from analog to digital enabled a far greater number of phone conversations to be maintained over any given set of copper lines than with analog, while at the same time improving quality and allowing for the transmission of data (fax, email, web, music, video, etc.).

What is coming next is the movement of voice data over a much broader spectrum, using the internet cloud as an indirect yet far less expensive means of moving a digital representation of your voice from your phone to whomever is listening, anywhere in the world.

This is called Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP. Originally made possible from computer-to-computer using open-source software such as Asterix, Skype introduced VOIP communications which enable computer-to-computer, computer-to-phone, and with the rental of a number, phone-to-computer calls for free or very low cost.

In the U.S., Vonage offers a no-brainer means by which you may tell Qwest, AT&T, or Southern Bell to go hell, and conduct all your phone calls using DSL, cable, or wireless broadband. Yes, you will need to pay for the broadband service, but you can remove the phone services and use VOIP instead.

The future of telephony services is the same as that of residential internet and home entertainment–service providers will compete for the highest bandwidth data pipe bundled with the lowest cost mix of services.

A friend Jeff Moe (super hacker extraordinaire) had years ago rented phone numbers (not services, just numbers) in a number of countries where he configured Asterix servers which allowed his friends in those countries to dial local numbers which auto-routed to wherever he was residing. He could be holding out in Argentina and answer a call placed in Southeast Asia and no one incurred long-distance charges.

That is possible now for those of us who do not harbor Jeff’s ubergeek abilities. While Skype offers physical phones which receive your local number no matter where you are in the world (as long as you are within the reach of an adequate wi-fi network) the Vonage VOIP adapter which may be connected to any internet connection, anywhere in the world, allowing standard handsets to receive and make calls at very low rates.

Skype and Vonage (along with TruPhone and others) also offer free iPhone apps which allows similar functionality for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

If you don’t want to pay AT&T ridiculous prices to use the iPhone, use an iPod Touch as your phone instead. It’s simple:

1) Purchase a headset with microphone.

2) Then download Skype or Vonage VOIP apps from the iTunes Store.

3) And within seconds you will be making your first call.

While you cannot receive calls to your iPod Touch using Vonage, you can if you subscribe to Skype’s caller ID service which will give your Skype call the appearance of a call from your phone. And what’s more, Skype provides for auto-forwarding to any number, even when your Skype application (nor your laptop) are on. It really works!

And true to Jeff’s hand-built network, Skype account holders can have a number in any country in world, meaning someone local to that country can call the number for free, and it will auto dial their Skype account, even auto-forward to their local number. Charges do apply, but what a great way to remain connected, even build an international company without ever leaving the office.

What comes next?
The strong-hold that AT&T and Apple hold on the PDA market is going to unravel as Google’s Android is now being embraced by several major phone manufactures, including Acer, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and Sony as an open-source operating system for mobile phones.

What gets really exciting is when you use an Android phone to connect to a 3G (or forthcoming 4G) service and then route that connection through the built-in 802.11 transceiver to create a local wi-fi network for home and mobile office use.

Whether at home, in the office, camping on the fringes of civilization, or moving at 75MPH down the Interstate, you may use your mobile connection to build a local wi-fi network.

So why do you need DSL or cable at home? Maybe you don’t. But whether you use a physical set of wires or wireless to bring a data connection into your home, the “internet” is not free. The internet requires an infrastructure which in the U.S. was in large part paid for by tax payers and built by the Ma Bell spin-offs. Some things are going to shake-down, finding a new balance between the locked-in sky-high prices and the apparently free VOIP services. Some things will likely remain the same, the traditional service providers continuing to charge the maximum amount possible until forced to reduce their prices through threat of suit or competitive market demand.

For now, you may reduce your phone bill with Vonage or Skype while adding the ability to call 60+ countries at no additional charge Smaller world. Smaller bill.