The Quick Start Guide to VOIP for the Home
VOIP Frequently Asked Questions
What is VOIP?
Simply put, VOIP is using an IP network like the Internet for voice conversations.
Instead of using traditional land lines to make voice calls, you use a broadband connection to the Internet and thereby by-pass telephone company services AND charges. More about regular phone service versus VOIP.
Another big advantage to VOIP is that you receive incoming calls to your VOIP phone no matter where you are in the world. The caller always dials the same number, but you could be in Paris, Montreal, or Timbuktu. As long as you have an Internet connection and your VOIP phone plugged into the internet, or VOIP software running on your computer, you can receive and make calls.
That's not all. Most VOIP services include loads of great features that traditional telephone companies charge for, like voice mail, call forwarding, call waiting, three-way calling and call transfer.
VoIP or Voice-over-Internet-Protocol is a technology that routes voice signals over the Internet or any other IP-based network. Also called Internet telephony, IP telephony or digital phone, VOIP phone calls can be made three ways. (1) From computer to computer with the use of VoIP software. (2) Using an IP phone can that converts your voice into data packets. (3) Using a traditional phone connected to an ATA (analog terminal adaptor) that converts your voice into digital form. Your computer, IP phone or ATA plugs into a broadband Internet connection and the voice data packets are sent over the Internet to the recipient.
If you are making phone-based VOIP calls, you do not necessarily need a computer. You do however, need a broadband modem and a subscription to high speed Internet service. A computer does come in handy for managing your VOIP account online, however.
For any kind of VOIP calling you need a broadband connection. Then, it depends on if you are making computer-based calls or phone-based calls. For computer to computer calls, you need VOIP software installed on your computer, plus a sound card, microphone or headset. Companies such as Skype provide this software for free. The person you are calling needs to have VOIP software installed as well. For phone-based calls you usually need to subscribe to a VOIP service plan from a provider who provides you with the equipment as part of the plan. For phone-based calls, you need a regular analog phone connected to an Analog Terminal Adaptor (ATA). Or you can use an IP phone that has the ATA function built into it. IP phones connect directly to the broadband modem.
Carefully review your telephone bill and look at the amount you are paying each month in long distance charges. If paying less for long distance is very important to you, then definitely consider replacing your landline with a VOIP service. But if you don't want to give up the reliability and built-in safety aspects of traditional phone service (infrequent outages and guaranteed 911 service), then first look into a free VOIP service such as Skype which provides computer to computer calling free anywhere the world.
Because VOIP providers are going for mass market appeal, they have made installation and setup relatively easy. The simplest setup is for a phone and broadband connection. Just plug the ATA (Analog Terminal Adaptor) into your broadband modem, and your phone into the ATA. If you are comfortable on your computer, but don't consider yourself an expert, you should be able to do this just fine.
Trickier installations that require some knowledge of computers and networking are connecting VOIP service to a wireless networks or local area network.
Use our VOIP service provider comparison tool, but don't just look at price. Consider other important factors such as features, 911 dialing, and user reviews on voice quality, customer service, and online account management. Also consider how you plan to make calls. If you are making calls to family in another state or country, look for a VOIP provider that offers unlimited calls to that location and a local number there so that family members can call you and only pay the cost of a local call.
Chances are you cannot use VOIP with an existing "older" model cell phone. However, newer models with WiFi—a feature that can allows you to access local wireless area networks—can make and receive VOIP calls. When you make a call with a WiFi enabled cell phone, your voice travels wirelessly (over RF) to a WiFi radio receiver which is in turn connected into the Internet.
WiFi cell phones can automatically switch between a cell phone network and a wireless area network (sometimes called a WiFi hotspot). You also have to subscribe to a cell phone service that supports WiFi.
Cell phone companies such as Motorola, Hewlett Packard, and NEC are introducing new WiFi phones all the time.
Many VOIP providers have agreements with telephone companies that allow you to port your old phone number over to VOIP service. It's called number portability. If you plan on switching, make sure an agreement exists between your telephone company and VOIP provider.
VOIP advantages include cheap to free long distance calling. Also, because VOIP phone numbers are tied to an IP address rather than a geographic address, your VOIP phone number travels with you. You can receive incoming calls to your VOIP phone no matter where you are in the world and the caller always dials the same number. As long as you have an Internet connection, and your VOIP phone plugged into the internet, or VoIP software running on your computer, you can receive and make calls. Plus, most VOIP services include great features that traditional telephone companies charge for, like voice mail, call forwarding, call waiting, three-way calling and call transfer.
The disadvantages of VOIP include disruption of service if there is a power outage. Whereas traditional PSTN phones get power from the telephone line itself, a VOIP phone call relies on “wall power” to your computer or broadband modem. Bad internet connections and congestion on the Internet can also cause poor voice quality, dropped calls and so on. Emergency 911 calls are also handled differently in a VOIP call. There is no way to tie a geographic address to an IP address making a call so, if you dial 911 the emergency operator has no way of pinpointing your location. You must be prepared to offer your address or location. And, in some emergency situations, you may not be able to speak.
VOIP features include many of the add-ons that regular phone services charge for, such as voice mail, call forwarding, and call waiting. It depends on the VOIP provider, but many features are universal. For more information about features, see the article Dictionary of VOIP Features.
There seem to be several types of people who use VOIP. First, there's those who like the novelty of it. Using Skype or other free softphones to call other like users for free is appealing. Second, there are those people who work from home. If you are home-based with clients all over the continent, you can save significantly with VOIP in long distance, in additional lines and phone numbers. Third, there are people who want to make and receive calls from friends and family cheaply. If you are any one of these folks, you are ideally suited for VOIP service.
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