Currently, one of the biggest advantages traditional phone users have over VoIP phone users is the caller ID function. While landlines are linked to a physical address and mobile phones to credit cards, anyone can go to a Wi-Fi hotspot and start making calls over VoIP. However, because of OpenID, VoIP users soon may be able to see who is on the line.

OpenID is a new set of standards that helps verify identity. Since it is both decentralized and open-source, it may be able to verify VoIP calls.

For OpenID to work, the user must choose an identifier, which can be any Web site or URL, to represent the user’s identity. The user then must register the URL with an identity provider, which can be anyone. Then, when the user visits an OpenID-enabled Web site that asks the user to log in, he or she enters that URL. There are other variants, but the basic process is that the identity provider sends specific details to the OpenID-enabled Web site. The user can gain access by entering these details. It can be used for VoIP because the system requires only one online identity to access OpenID-enabled Web sites. Developers theorize the user could use that identity to make VoIP calls, which could allow VoIP call recipients to see who is calling.

However, since the system is decentralized, it could be open for abuse. The OpenID system does not provide a link between online identity and the real world. E-mail suffers from this same problem, and it has become the primary online identity reference.

Currently, only about 500 Web sites use OpenID, although, one major service provider recently joined. AOL now allows its members to use their screen names for OpenID authentication. Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft also are working on implementing the system. All this means VoIP may see a rise in users as it begins to compete with the traditional phone line in functionality and excels in usability.   EC