The Quick Start Guide to VOIP for the Home, Home Office, and Small Business
Comparing VOIP Service Providers
Where to start?
The number of VoIP providers worldwide is 1483 in 120 countries...and growing.
With so many companies offering voice-over IP âdealsâ, the task of whittling your choices down to even a top ten is daunting. However, the good news is that with so many broadband phone companies competing for your attention, pricing and packaging of services is competitive.
Here, we will overview the types service providers, services and features available and explain what you need to know before you sign up.
Who qualifies as a VOIP Provider?
Basically, a VOIP provider is a company offering commercial broadband internet phone services. Subscribers make and receive phone calls using the Internet.
Depending on the company, subscribers can use (1) a regular phone plugged into a device that digitizes voice signals (called an Analog Terminal Adaptor), (2) a special phone that plugs directly into a broadband connection (called an VOIP phone or IP phone), or (3) a VOIP software program, and a microphone, and speakers for computer-to-computer calls.
Types of VOIP Provider
There are two basic types of VOIP providers.
Free VOIP Services
The first type offer free services with some restrictions. You have to download their free software or view advertising on the computer during software setup or during calls. Free VoIP services include: Skype, SIPphone/Gizmo Project, and Free World Dialup.
Subscriber VOIP Services
Choosing a VoIP Provider
Choosing which type of provider depends on how you expect to use VoIP. Hereâs a quick checklist to help you decide:
I want to call mostly friends and family over the Internet. Try one of the free VOIP services.
I want an alternative to my existing phone service or long distance company. Try a VOIP service provider that offers package deals based on a monthly fee.
I want to make regular calls to certain geographical areas. Most VOIP service providers offer a package deal which includes free calls to a certain geographical area. For example, if you make a lot of overseas calls you want a package that includes these calls in the basic monthly fee. If you receive most of your calls from a certain geographic area or city, try to find a service provider that offers a PSTN phone number in that location. This will allow people to call you at local rates.
I want a guarantee of service and reliability. Research a VOIP providerâs service and reliability through online user forums and look into their money back guarantee. The Resources section of this website has some links to industry news and forums where you can get feedback on the internet phone company you are considering.
I want a VOIP service that works with my existing Internet connection. First find out how much bandwidth is required for a particular providerâs service. The Resources section has a bandwidth calculator you can use. In general 90 kbps or better is the minimum bandwidth required for VOIP. This information may not be available on the company's web site, so if necessary, send them an e-mail to verify that your broadband connection is suitable for VOIP. Generally speaking, though, if you have 128 kbps on the upload side it should be sufficient.
I want to be able to make emergency calls if necessary. Find out how the service provider handles Emergency 911 calls. In the United States, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is demanding that VOIP service providers come up with a solution that allows emergency VOIP calls to be accurately situated. Some VOIP service providers solve this problem by making you register your address with them. If you dial 911, their notification system calls the nearest emergency center and provides your address information if you are unable to speak.
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