Voice over Internet Protocol, also commonly referred to as VoIP, has been a major player in the communications industry since 2004. It's hard to imagine that less than a decade ago the idea of using anything other than a phone to make a call was novel. Today, VoIP phone services have become commonplace on the consumer market, giving millions of people the ability to carry out conversations around the world.
VoIP is a set of technologies that deliver voice communications using the internet. In order to do this, the analog voice signal must be digitized, encoded and transmitted as Internet Protocol packets which is then received, decoded and converted to the appropriate signal depending on the call's final destination.
VoIP calls are placed using either a computer, VoIP phone or conventional telephone that is hooked up to an adapter. With VoIP phone service calls can be made to either a telephone or another computer, giving you more flexibility in how you can communicate with family, friends and business associates.
There are a number of similarities and differences between VoIP and traditional phone services.
Just like traditional phone service, VoIP customers can make local, long distance and even international calls. Calls can be made to any telephone number whether it's a landline or a mobile phone.
VoIP phone calls also offer good sound quality and calls are received the same way you would receive a traditional phone call if you're using a VoIP phone or regular phone that's connected to an adapter. The people you're calling will not be able to distinguish a traditional call from a VoIP call.
VoIP providers offer customers the same great calling features as traditional phone companies and they have a variety of calling plans as well.
Unlike traditional phone services, you will need an internet connection to make VoIP phone calls. Because of this you may not be able to place calls if you're power goes out. Before signing up for service ask the provider if they have backup power or another solution in the event that your power goes out.
VoIP calls are delivered over a packet switched network and don't require any phone lines, whereas traditional phone services a delivered over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and do require phone lines in order to receive service. So traditional phone service is limited to your home while VoIP service can be portal and utilized from any place where you have an internet connection.
However, this portability does have one drawback that isn't a problem with traditional phone service. Emergency 911 calls made using a traditional phone service goes to a Public Safety Answering Point where the location and phone number can easily and automatically be identified. If you're using a VoIP phone service this information may not be automatically transmitted to 911 operators and when they do the location will be where the VoIP phone service is registered, not where the caller is at that exact time.
Today there are a number of VoIP providers to choose from that offer both residential and business phone services. As mentioned above, each provider offers their own unique services, plans and prices. Because VoIP phone service doesn't require phone lines you aren't limited to providers that are strictly in your area.
Make sure to inquire about the equipment required for service, their policy for handling 911 calls and power outages, what calling areas are included in their plans and whether or not there will be any installation fees.
Vonage was one of the first to provide VoIP phone services and to this day remains a popular choice among consumers. Although their headquarters is in the U.S. they provide service worldwide for both residences and businesses.
Other top VoIP providers include: AT&T, Nextiva, RingCentral, Vocalocity and 8x8, Inc.