The idea is this: At some point on the Internet you have a server that
connects to the telephone network. It can detect ringing and seize
(answer) the line, or it can pick up the line and initiate outdialing.
So far all of this can be done using existing products (modems, for
example). But what I would then propose for this new technology is to
take the audio from the phone line and convert it into an audio data
stream that can be sent to another location on the Internet. In a
similar manner, this product should be able to accept an audio stream
from the Internet and send it out to the phone line.
On the user (client) end, a companion product (designed to work with
the server) would operate similar to IPhone or another two-way voice
over Internet product, except that when the server receives a ringing
signal from the telephone line, it would sent a data packet to the
user's program that would cause an audible (or other) signal to sound
or appear on the video display of the user's computer. The user could
then take some action to "answer the phone" by causing the server to
take the phone line offhook and start the audio streams flowing, and
the computer user would then be able to hold a conversation with the
telephone caller. Or, if the user wished to make an outgoing call,
they could enter a number to be called and then take some action
(keypress, mouse click, etc.) that would cause information to be
transmitted via the Internet that would cause the server to take the
line offhook, dial the requested number using touch tones or dial
pulses, and then start the audio data streams flowing, permitting the
user to converse with a called party.
In this situation, the telephone line would come into one location
that is connected to the Internet, and the user of the line could be
almost anywhere else on the Internet. They'd be able to answer an
incoming call, or place an outgoing one, and then talk using an IPhone
or similar type interface. Depending on the user's hardware (sound
card) and preference, the connection could be half duplex (either
"press a key/button to talk" or VOX type operation), or nearly
full-duplex (I say "nearly" because there would be a slight delay
inherent in sending audio streams via the Internet).
For those familiar with amateur radio phone patches, this would be a
similar type of connection, except that instead of connecting a
telephone line to a radio transceiver, it would connect to a device
that converts digital audio data streams sent via the Internet to and
from analog signals compatible with the telephone line.
I would expect that there would be some sort of authentication between
the client and server sides, probably in the form of a password
required to use the server (which would be sent automatically any time
a command was sent to pick up the line). And care would have to be
taken that once a connect was initiated, no other user could "break
in" and grab the open line. On the other hand, the server should be
capable of accepting connections from more than one client (and
multiple passwords, in case more than one user should be allowed to
have access to the server, and you want to have an accounting of which
user was connected at any particular time).
The uses should be obvious ... any time you want to answer a phone
line or place a call from a remote location that has an internet
connection, and don't care about a slight time delay (which might be
pretty minimal on some connections), this technology could be used.
Assuming decent connectivity, the connection (from the telephone side)
should sound no worse than, say, a patched call from a two-way radio
(or even from some cellular phones!).
Basically, this would be the equivalent of an "off premises extension"
using the Internet. One possible application, given sufficently well
connected sites, would be to allow people to take calls coming into a
call center from another off-premises location, using the technology I
have proposed to carry the audio while they use some other software
(either local software or another net application) to actually look up
information, enter orders, etc. You'd probably need an ISDN line or
other high capacity "pipe" to the off-premises location to get audio
quality and transmission speed sufficient to make this work.
Please, no flames about whether this SHOULD be done, how much
"bandwidth" it will consume, etc. Both regulations and the capacity
of Internet connections vary from place to place. What is illegal or
a drain on bandwidth in one place may be quite legal, and consume only
a fraction of a percent of available bandwidth in another place. And
as we all know, regulations prohibiting bypass of the phone company
are being lifted in many places (if they're not gone already) and
higher capacity "pipes" are being constructed all the time (just as a
side note, I mentioned the bandwidth issue regarding audio streams to
a friend who works at an ISP. He said that these would hardly be
noticed on their network, but they have a relative large "pipe" to the
backbone. YMMV. especially with a smaller provider).
The main ideas I want to have on record as "prior art", in case
nobody's tried to patent them yet (I hope), are:
1) The idea of taking a unidirectional or bidirectional digital audio
stream from the Internet and converting it to analog and sending it to
or from a telephone line,
2) The idea of using client software at a user's site on the Internet
to remotely control another device on the net that can initiate a call
or answer a call (this is prior art anyway, as folks have used remote
modems on the internet for over a decade, but this may be the first
time this has been proposed in connection with a device that would
send real-time audio streams to and from the line).
3) The idea of using authentication with such a system, so that
whenever a command is sent that would take the phone line off hook,
the command string would include a password or other mechanism that
would be verified by the server to insure that the user actually has
authority to remotely control the line.
4) And just to cover all the bases, I'll also suggest that an
adapation of this idea would allow someone to call into the Internet
using a server, have the call transported some distance over the
Internet as digital audio streams, and then sent back out into the
public switched telephone system at a distant point. I'm not
suggesting this would work well, would be legal, or should be done,
but I want to go on record as saying it would be possible with the
right hardware and software.
Note that although I make reference to the Internet at several points
above, this technology could work in a similar manner on a private or
One final comment: It would be nice if perhaps a later version of this
technology would offer conference call capability (for example, one or
more users on the Internet and one or more "off-net" users connected
via phone lines, all taking turns on a voice conference).
It will be interesting to see how long it will be before someone comes
up with this technology. It's not a question of "if", it's a question
of "when", IMHO. I'd like to see it offered sooner rather than later,
and at a low enough price that companies and individuals can afford
Well, that's my idea, as sent to the TELECOM Digest on September 15,
1995. If anyone's already come up with something like this, I'm not
aware of it, so please let me know. On the other hand, if anyone
decides to proceed with building this technology as a result of this
article, I'd be happy to help beta test the result (from the user
side, of course!) :-)
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I thought something like this was
already going on. I think I have read about it before on the net.
Am I mistaken? Isn't this already being done in a limited way? PAT]