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You too can try net telephony


Everyone is talking about internet telephony. Here's how you can do it yourself — for free.

IN THE normal course, an April 1 announcement that one could do international calls almost free of charge would be dismissed as another All Fools Day prank. But the joker this year was the Government of India, and after one has discounted all the hype of the last fortnight, one fact of life remains true: You can, indeed, use your internet connection to carry on a voice conversation with just about anyone else who is on the web at the same time.

Almost all the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are gearing up to provide a variety of paid services, whereby you can use your internet account with them, to call up international telephone numbers.

However, there is one simple, yet dramatic, way in which anyone (which means the average dummy like you and me) can, at no extra cost (other than the local charges we pay during a connection), sample the thrills of internet telephony.

Here's what you need:

Your PC must be equipped with a sound card, a microphone, and a pair of speakers. In other words, it must be a multimedia PC.

You must download the latest version of one of the two popular instant messaging softwares, Yahoo Messenger (from or or MSN Messenger (from . These are free downloads and won't take more than five minutes at normal connection speeds. The software works with Windows 95/NT/98/Me/XP.

You must then sign up as a user of either service, allotting yourself a password.

Many ''experts'' will tell you that internet telephony will only work if you buy a special set of headphones and an attached mike. This is not true. You can conduct a satisfactory telecon as long as you position yourself close to the built-in mike of your PC (usually on the monitor). However, you do get better quality if you are prepared to spend Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 on a hi-fi headphone-mike combo.

Once you are online, both Yahoo and MSN messengers allow you to switch from the normal chat mode (where you type your messages) to a voice chat mode. They also allow you to pre-adjust the sensitivity of the mike so that it picks up your voice and not a whole lot of other background noise.

The only restriction on this type of net telephony is that you must have somebody out there who is online at the same time and is enlisted with the same messenger service.

If, for example, a buddy or a closer relative is somewhere abroad, you can always send him or her an e-mail to arrange for both of you to be online at a given time. These clever messenger softwares will alert you about all your buddies who are online at the same time. Type an opening message suggesting that you both go the voice mode, and you are all set to make that hi-tech telephone call. It will work just as well with a friend in the US or your parents in another Indian city, or across the street.

Internet telephone calls take a little getting used to. You click to talk, then click and wait for the other guy to have his turn. A little slow, and the quality may not be great. But just concentrate on all those STD/ISD rupees you are saving.

For years, VSNL used to threaten its subscribers with dire consequence if they ''misused'' their internet connections for telephone talks. Now, it's all legal. Let's thank our forward- looking IT Minister, Pramod Mahajan, for unshackling the internet. And while we are about it, let's spare a grateful thought or two for the guy who started it all years ago -- Alexander Graham Bell.


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