The Quick Start Guide to VOIP for the Home, Home Office, and Small Business

Surveying VOIP Phones, VOIP Software, and other Hardware

What equipment do I need to use VOIP?

After fees and rates, this is one of the most commonly asked questions about Voice-Over-IP services.

The hardware and software you need to get up and running with VOIP are minimal. If you subscribe to a service plan, the equipment is usually included in the startup costs.

Depending on your situation, you may need one or more of the following pieces of equipment:

VOIP Phone

Also known as: SIP phone, IP phone

If you really want to harness the power of VoIP, invest in a VoIP phone. There are lots VoIP phones available on the market today, ranging from simple residential phones to complex business phones loaded with features such as speakerphone and frequently dialed number storage, and programmable keys. Even basic models have an LCD display for caller ID and phone configuration.

Some Terminology...

When shopping around for a VOIP phone, you’ll come across the following buzzwords like: SIP phone, IP phone, or Internet phone. Do all these terms mean the same thing, or is there a difference? Take a quick look at VOIP phone lingo...

Some examples of popular VOIP phones are:

  • The Grandstream BudgetTone series IP phones are full featured desktop phones with models suitable for home office and business office use. They sell between $50 and $60, a great price point for a home office.

grandstream 102 voip phone

  • The Uniden Whole House VoIP Phone System is an IP phone package designed specifically for Packet8 subscribers. It has a built-in broadband modem and Analog Terminal Adaptor (ATA). Nice if your office space is limited and you are concerned about yet another “box” on or under your desk.  You can also add up to 10 cordless Uniden handsets, so that every room in your home can have a phone and take advantage of VOIP savings.

Packet8 VOIP phone
Read more about Packet8...

Analog Telephone Adaptor

Also known as: broadband phone adaptor, VOIP adaptor

To use your regular analog or cordless phone, you’ll need an Analog Telephone Adaptor (ATA). Your VoIP service provider or broadband phone company should be able to provide you with one of these. Otherwise, online stores such as carry popular brand names such as Grandstream and LinkSys/Sipura.

The ATA converts your voice into digital data before it hits the Internet. The ATA connects to your broadband modem and to your regular telephone. Some ATAs also have built-in broadband routers are "all-in-one" and have built in ATA functions.

The obvious advantage of using an ATA is that you can use the phone you have on hand, either wired or cordless. Some ATA's are small enough to be easily portable, meaning you can take them with you when you travel.

Some example of popular ATAs are:

  • Grandstream Handytone 286 Analog Adaptor and the Grandstream Handytone 486 All-in-One Adaptor that connects to the Internet (with a built-in broadband router), to the PSTN, to a home office LAN, and to analog phones and faxes
  • Linksys WRTP54G—An ATA offered with a Vonage service plan. It connects up to 2 Vonage lines and includes a wireless router for connecting up to 4 PCs directly to an Internet connection.

Broadband Modem

Also known as: broadband router

To have high speed Internet, you need a broadband modem or router. Usually, this device is installed by your broadband service provider. VOIP phones plug directly into the router, while a regular analog phone plugs into an ATA, which then plugs into the router. Some broadband modems are all-in-one, and have built-in ATA functions.

VOIP Software

Also known as: softphone, VOIP client, dialer, PC telephone, Net phone

VOIP software is required only for computer-to-computer, or computer-to-phone calling. It is an application that allows you to dial from you computer. Most softphone user interfaces are designed to resemble familiar looking phones, PDAs, or Instant Messenging applications like MSN Messenger.

VOIP software can be free, like Skype or GloPhone, or it can be part of a VOIP service Plan. Vonage, for example offers the Vonage Softphone as an add-on service. On your desktop or laptop computer, the SoftPhone looks like a telephone keypad.

Read more about free VOIP software...

Headset and Microphones

If you plan on using your computer as a phone, then you need a computer with soundcard, a headset with a microphone, and some VoIP software. Headsets can be mono (only one speaker or earpiece), or stereo (two earpieces). Headset earpieces come in two types: cushy pads that cover the whole ear or ear buds that you insert inside the ear. Some folks find certain earpieces uncomfortable so make sure to try some on before you buy

Some examples of headsets with built in microphones:

  • Plantronics .Audio 50—a mono headset with microphone for about $20
  • Plantronics .Audio 90—a stereo headset ideal for VOIP, music and gaming.

USB Phone

Also known as: Internet phone, computer phone, PC phone

If you dislike headsets, try a USB phone for making PC-to-PC calls. These phones plug directly into the USB port on the computer. Skype currently offers the Cyberphone K and Simply Phones for use with the proprietary Skype service.

Other USB phones include:

  • Tiger NetCom 200B USB Phone
  • Clarisys USB Internet Phone CLA-i750H

Cordless/Wireless VOIP Phones

Linksys has just released a new cordless handset for use with Skype. The CIT200 uses a PC running Skype as its base station and uses DECT wireless, to eliminate interference with 2.4GHz cordless phones and other networking devices.

  • Linksys CIT200 Cordless Internet Phone for Skype

skype phone

Next... [ Free VOIP Software ]

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