VOIP services have been around for a while now, they were looked at as personal networking tools to keep in touch with family and friends. But now several small-and medium-sized businesses are beginning to realize the benefits that Skype and voice-cum-instant messaging programs such as Microsoft live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger bring. With these you get combination of instant messaging and file-transfer capabilities together with voice and video- conferencing capabilities, all integrated into a single application on your PC.

Contact lists are built by sharing user IDs in the same fashion as instant messaging ‘buddy lists’. Though with most programs you can only call users that have the same program installed on their machines, there are few such as Gizmo, that allow you to talk with people regardless of the VoIP service they are using.

Skype’s E-Bay’s peer-to-peer voice-over-IP (VOIP) offering, routes calls over the internet, offers good voice quality and supports conference calls and it’s for free.

You need be restricted to PC-to-PC calls. Skype for instance offers value added service (Skype Out) that, for a small sum, connects VOIP callers to land lines too. Another service, SkypeIn, allows subscribers to buy a local telephone number so that land line users can call to reach a Skype ‘soft’ phone.

The biggest lure is that these service are low cost— all you need is a good quality microphone, a headset and a broadband internet connection that offers 124 kbps speed or above.

Nevertheless, these services are not yet perfect for use as a means of business communication. When you take Skype into a formal, office setting, you need much more than pure voice chat. For instance, there may be situations when you would like to record discussions. Recording professional interviews or teleconferences are two examples.

Besides, they also come with added headache for administrators, who must now sort through problems of management. What bites currently is the lack of centralized management capabilities, such as the ability to review and retain call detail records says a network administrator for a Mumbai-based software services company. They may represent security risks too, because even though the calls are encrypted, they still travel on the internet, so there is a possibility of people tapping into it.

Once your VOIP conversations are recorded, the possibilities are endless. A team using VOIP, for instance, records all the conference discussions between team leaders and creating recordings of the key action points. They then post these to their groups blogs for everyone to access.

There are still few glitches with these add-on services. Like latency the slight lag which cause echo and jitter—and lack of manageability.

Nevertheless, peer-to-peer VOIP services are gaining ground in small and mid-size businesses. The benefits are just too compelling for users to ignore. It’s a cheap, simple application that gets the work one.