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Most people today use their home telephone line to connect to the Internet. Not long from now, William D. Gaskill predicts, the tables will be turned -- people will use their Internet connection for voice calls, cutting their phone bills in the process.

Gaskill, an engineer at Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif., will give a talk on "Voice over Internet Protocol" at tonight's meeting of InfoTech Niagara, at 5:30 p.m. in the University at Buffalo's Center for Tomorrow in Amherst.

"With IP (Internet Protocol) you have one network to do a whole range of services," he said in a telephone interview. As a maker of Internet routers and voice-over-IP equipment, Cisco has a big stake in the technology.

Corporations are using their internal networks to carry phone calls using Internet-type transmissions. And telephone companies are using IP to ship voice calls between switching offices, a factor in the fall of long-distance phone charges, Gaskill said. Conversations chopped up and encoded as digital "packets" use far less transmission capacity than dedicating an entire circuit to a single call.

But data jams on the Internet cause gaps and static when the packets are reassembled, making for poor sound quality with today's early voice-over-Internet technologies, Gaskill said.

That should change when Internet routing becomes sensitive to the type of packet being transmitted, he said. Future routing schemes should give higher priority to real-time conversations, speeding them ahead of chunks of data like graphics files.

Although call quality may still suffer compared to traditional phones, the success of cell phones shows that consumers are willing to accept lower call quality, Gaskill said.

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