What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP, IP telephony) is a method for providing phone service over the internet. This requires a high-speed connection, and otherwise bypasses the phone company. VoIP can offer much lower rates than traditional telephony, as well as calling and voicemail features such as call routing and recording, SMS text, and video conferencing capabilities.
How VoIP works
At its most basic, VoIP takes analog signals and encodes them into digital form, then transmits them over the internet. On the receiving end, the encoded signal is decoded for the recipient to hear the sender’s voice. This is done through Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which initiates, maintains, modifies, and terminates real-time sessions that involve video, voice, messaging, and other communications applications and services.
Slowly but surely, more and more traditional telephone companies are migrating towards making the switch to full VoIP. Odds are, you’ve already used VoIP when making a long-distance call. Phone companies have been using VoIP to streamline their networks, routing phone calls onto an IP gateway, thereby reducing their bandwidth. When the call is received by the gateway on the other side, it’s routed to a local circuit switch.
On your own, there are a few different common ways to access VoIP services:
Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA)
This connects a standard telephone to a computer or network. Some perform their own analog-to-digital conversion and connect to a VoIP server, whereas others rely on software for one or both of these tasks. The simplest type has one or more RJ-11 jacks to plug into a phone, and a USB connector for the computer or network device. Some providers offer ATA free as part of their service package.
Internet Protocol Phones (IP phones)
These are also called SIP telephones or softphones. Simply put, this is a device/software client designed to support VoIP technology. They can come in two different types: software or hardware based. Software-based softphone technology relies on an application which uses either an attached headset, or a computer’s microphone and speakers, to make and receive phone calls. A hardware-based SIP phone, on the other hand, looks just like a normal phone. The only difference is that it connects directly to the data network, rather than to a standard landline. These softphones have an integrated hub, so they share a network connection with the computer, and don’t require an additional network point for the phone.
This is by far the least expensive VoIP option. It only requires some software—which companies offer either free or for a nominal amount—a microphone, speakers, a sound card and a high-speed Internet connection. Besides the cost of the monthly VoIP fee, there is no additional cost for making calls, no matter the distance.
Benefits to VoIP
- Simple to setup
- Significant savings as compared to traditional telephony
- Additional features such as mobile apps for Android and iOS that are extensions of your main phone, enhanced functionality rolled out specifically for new mobile operating systems, auto-receptionist and role-based access control to call screening, as well as team collaboration. These aren’t standard, however, and vary per company.
- Increased functionality and mobility. A VoIP phone can be used wherever there’s an internet connection.
- E911, which enables you to establish an address for 911 service. Emergency service calling used to be a problem for VoIP providers, but the industry developed Enhanced 911 to solve this issue. Complaints regarding this service can be made to the FCC.
- For businesses, VoIP can provide call routing, automated attendants, call recording, and conference call bridges—replacing the need for an operator.
- A cloud-based private branch exchange (PBX) with your VoIP can enable employees to be at different locations and multiple time zones, thereby covering a larger customer base.
- For an additional fee, VoIP can offer integration with cloud business services.
Disadvantages to VoIP
- Dependent on wall power. If your house or place of business suffers a power outage, your telephony will go out as well.
- No way to integrate digital video recorders, digital subscription TV services, and home security systems, which can be incorporated into landlines.
- Latency or poor sound quality. Since VoIP is susceptible to all the problems and service interruptions associated with home broadband or cable internet, this can translate into poor phone service
- VoIP is technically susceptible to worms, viruses, and hacking, although developers are working on VoIP encryption to counteract this.
- With VoIP, your phone system is dependent on individual computers of varying power and specifications. This can affect phone service when attempting to carry on a call while opening other programs, by overtaxing your hard drive’s processing power.
Though there are some possible cons to making the switch from landlines to VoIP, these can be outweighed by its advantages if your internet connection is reliable and high-quality. When comparing companies, make sure to conduct thorough research into their rates, services, reliability, and customer service. A good place to begin investigating is our list of the ten best VoIP providers of the year.