This article provides an introduction into what VoIP is, the benefits of using such a phone service, the features associated with this type of technology, the disadvantages, and the equipment needed.
An Introduction to VoIP Phone Service
VoIP stands for "Voice Over Internet Protocol", which is a technology that allows you to make phone calls using your Internet connection instead of your regular copper landline. It is also referred to as Voice over IP, Broadband phone, Internet phone service and Digital Voice. Yes it is a marketing game by the different service providers but they all use the same core technology.
From your perspective, the phone works exactly as it has always done and you simply dial any number and talk.
The only requirement for this technology is a high speed Internet connection, such as DSL or cable, as the service is based on broadband Internet communication. A VoIP phone call requires a speed of up to 90Kbps depending on the voice compression algorithm chosen by the service provider. This is a higher speed than dial-up Internet so a high speed Internet service is a basic requirement.
What are the benefits of VoIP?
The following are the main benefits of using VoIP for your phone service:
- One low monthly fee often covers all of your phone calls in the U.S and Canada. This is where we can help you - compare our most popular residential VoIP providers.
- While there are some taxes, they are clearly explained and much lower than what your regular phone company will charge you.
- Making international calls costs a lot less and it is easy to find some specialized plans that include a certain number of free monthly international calling minutes. VoIP companies take advantage of the Internet to connect these calls which enables them to offer such great low rates.
What features do I get?
The features available are impressive. Your voice, which is an analog signal, is converted into small packets of digital data and sent over the Internet to your VoIP provider. This digital data is perfect for the Internet and it means your service provider can do many things with it such as:
- Store incoming calls to voice mail if you do not want to be disturbed by the telephone.
- Send a voice mail to you as an e-mail attachment so you can listen to it on any computer and at any time.
- 3-way calling. Many plans allow up to three people in one conference call, allowing you to talk with your entire family at once.
- Offer caller ID, call blocking, call forwarding and call waiting. These features are often thrown in for free. You would normally need to pay for the privilege with a local landline provider.
There are many other cool features that VoIP offers and it should be remembered that this technology is still growing fast so the possibilities are almost endless. Check out our guide to many of the VoIP Features available from the providers you see on our website.
Are there any disadvantages?
There are a couple of items to consider before you choose VoIP. These are usually not an issue for most people but worth highlighting in case it is a problem for you.
Most providers have Emergency 911 (or E911) service which is a little different to the standard 911 service you may be use to. Verify with your provider of choice that they have this service. The reason for E911 is because VoIP is so portable and you could have a phone number for anywhere in the world. This of course poses problems when it comes to emergencies - the emergency services do not automatically know where you are located. This typically requires you to set up your home address in the emergency systems so that they know your location in case of emergency. An extra step perhaps but not really that big a deal and involves simply adding your current physical location to your portal on the providers website.
The biggest disadvantage that skeptics will throw at you is what happens when your power goes out at home or you lose your Internet connection. You see VoIP relies on having a reliable Internet connection so if that goes down so does your phone service. However, in the days when most of us have a cell phone of some sort, even if it is just "pay as you go", is this really a big issue? Also, some people will buy an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) so if the power goes out you can still power your Internet modem and VoIP adapter.
What equipment do I need?
To make a VoIP call the only additional piece of equipment that a typical setup will need is an Analog Telephone Adapter (or ATA), which is usually supplied by the service provider when you sign up for service.
This allows you to make phone calls as normal, using your own standard phone. The ATA does the clever conversion of your analog voice to a digital signal that the Internet can understand. It then sends that signal on to your Internet modem, which passes it over the Internet.
A typical residential phone solution looks like this:
Why is the computer in the picture - you still want your high speed Internet, right? You can surf the web while your daughter talks to her friends on the phone.
If you have more than one phone in your home the recommended connection is to use cordless telephones. The ATA is an interface between the VoIP phone line and the cordless phones base station and should be connected using an RJ-11 cable. The additional handsets can then be located wherever you choose to have them in your home. For other options check out "How do I add multiple phones to my VoIP service?" in our FAQ.
For homes with more than one computer simply connect a router to the ATA instead of the PC in the diagram above. Your computers then connect to the router. Note that many other connectivity options exist for this type of setup. If your home network is a little more complex, take a look at our VoIP setup article.
Now that WhichVoIP.com has given you an insight into this technology you hopefully can now see why VoIP is the most economical and smart method of making phone calls. Check out some of the providers on this page in our comparison table to get an idea of pricing and read user reviews.
For the techies: Check out our Advanced VoIP Guide for an in-depth explanation of how a VoIP call works.