VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a technology enabling you to make voice calls while using Internet connection through a phone line. You may be able to call people using the same VoIP service and just anyone with a telephone number, local, mobile and even international telephone numbers. You may be connected to the Internet and make calls either from your computer, a special VoIP phone or a traditional phone connected to a VoIP adapter.

VoIP service works through a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection, a high speed connection using the wires of a regular telephone line. VoIP transfers your voice into a digital signal which is transmitted online and converted into an analog telephone signal when you call a regular telephone number. Wireless “hot spots” located in parks, cafes and airports provide a high speed connection to the Internet where the VoIP service is also enabled.

What kind of equipment is required?

To use a VoIP service, you need a high speed Internet connection, also called a broadband Internet connection. This can be available through high speed services such as DSL, cable modem or local area network. You will need a computer, a specialized telephone or an adapter. You may choose to purchase VoIP services that work only over your computer or a specialized VoIP phone or you may opt to use a traditional phone with VoIP adapter.

Using VoIP service through a computer, some additional software and a microphone are required. In most cases you can use the computer while talking over the phone. Unlike it, specialized VoIP telephone plugs right into your high speed Internet connection and works much like a regular telephone. If you opt for a regular phone with a VoIP adapter, you will dial numbers in a traditional manner and may be offered a dial tone by your service provider.

What is a VoIP adapter and how does it work?

Another name for a VoIP adapter is an analog telephone adapter, or ATA. Analog telephone adapter has an interface that allows for using a regular telephone for making calls over an IP network. Different manufactures may use a bit different acronyms for an ATA but they mean the same thing. Some US VoIP service providers offer a free-of-charge ATA if you sign up with them. If you use VoIP service for less than 12 months, you’re charged a deactivation fee.

An analog telephone adapter is a kind of computer device that operates all tasks connected with using a telephone line and speaking over an IP network, or Internet. This includes encoding your voice into IP packets to be transmitted over the Internet and decoding the IP packets into voice. It also provides for the dial tone and understanding of touch tones. An ATA device is also provided with a web server enabling you to configure it on the computer.

Whom can I call with VoIP service?

Depending on the VoIP service provider, your calls may be limited to other subscribers of the same service, or you may be permitted to make calls to anyone who has a telephone number. When you call someone with a regular analog phone, the owner of the phone does not need to have any special equipment installed to talk to you. You may talk to several people at a time if your VoIP service provides for this convenience.

If you largely use the VoIP service for calls to other subscribers, you are not charged any fees. However, fee-free service is only available as long as you make calls within your calling area, just like it happens in a traditional wire line telephone service. VoIP service provider allows you to select an area code which is different from where you live and which implies long distance charges when you’re calling to its number.

What are the advantages of VoIP?

VoIP has lots of advantages over a traditional phone service. Typically you get features which are either unavailable with a regular phone or available for an additional fee. The principle advantage is a low cost because a PC-to-phone connection is less than a traditional long distance phone call. You’re charged a small monthly fee for making unlimited calls within your calling area and a small additional fee for outside calls. Calls within North America may be charges as local calls.

Travelers use VoIP service for portability. The high speed Internet connection allows you to easily and cheaply contact with your family, friends and business partners. Having an IP phone with you, all you need is to sign to VoIP service and call without worrying about roaming or cell phone coverage. Also, you may be provided with an internet phone number providing for phone-to-phone VoIP service from any place round the world.

What are the disadvantages of VoIP?

Two big problems with VoIP service are power interruptions and emergency calls. Unlike a traditional phone powered by a telephone line, a computer and an IP phone are powered by electricity and so they fail when the electricity goes out. One way out is to use a battery backup or a power generator to keep the power but it is a much greater hassle than just using a traditional phone. That is why VoIP is not generally used yet.

Emergency 911 call is a more serious concern. Unlike a traditional phone, VoIP does not allow tracing your call to the place of your location and so the operator is no able to see you on a computer screen. VoIP call origination is impossible to determine. Also, there are sound quality and reliability issues. Due to the specificity of sending data online, data may be dropped and there might be periods of silence in voice communication.

Can VoIP replace the standard phone line completely?

Practically, it can, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If the Internet connection fails (server problems, power failure, etc) the phone service will also get down. There may be occasional faults in voice communication, such as slight delays or echoes. It’s the same as using a cell phone. Even if you have a DSL connection, a traditional phone line is still required. Your phone number will not be found in a telephone book.

Also, when downloading a large file from the Internet and speaking over the phone at the same time, you may experience momentous call degradation or get the phone call cut altogether. This is mostly true to slower internet connections and almost ruled out if you use a DSL. A standard telephone is more reliable when you need to make that 911 emergency call. For some VoIP services it’s difficult to identify your location.

Should my business use a VoIP service?

Imagine you are on a business trip far away from your office and you get an important business call which comes on to your laptop. Or you receive a voice mail which comes to your e-mail inbox. Wherever you go, you can talk over the phone easily and cheaply if you’re signed up to a VoIP service. Telephone number with a Texas area code allows making unlimited calls within that area even if your office is in New York.

Just like e-mail, your phone calls travel over the Internet, dramatically lowering the phone call cost while improving your business’ productivity. Your business will benefit from an array of additional useful features which you would never have with a traditional telephone technology. VoIP services are spreading fast but some small businesses are still hesitating due to the existing disadvantages of this technology such as implementation costs and calls interruption.

What are VoIP basic benefits?

The quality of VoIP services has notably increased. The whole system has evolved and doesn’t require both the parties to stay at their computer for the conversation. The sound quality has also improved. Better sound, fewer costs, convenience and additional benefits drive most businesses and consumers to abandon traditional phone devices in favor of VoIP. VoIP phone system is highly flexible and portable.

VoIP allows making the following manipulations:

• taking your phone system wherever you go;

• talking on your laptop with the help of telephony software such as a microphone;

• getting a voice mail or faxes in a regular e-mail inbox and archiving or forwarding them to others;

• getting virtual phone numbers with any available area code which is especially useful if you have business in a place different from where you live;

• increasing productivity.

How do I make the most of a VoIP system?

In general a VoIP system is easy to implement but larger devices work better if set up and configured by an expert. Before switching everyone at once, make a test of the system with a few users first. As you are testing, keep your traditional phone system up and running as a backup. You may use call forwarding in case of power goes down and it will automatically forward unanswered calls to a landline or cell phone number.

Make sure your network is secured against hackers. VoIP’s popularity is attracting hackers who may intercept VoIP phone calls or break through the company’s system by means of denial-of-service attacks. Check if the VoIP offers the 911 service and Local Number Portability which allows keeping your existing phone number. Compare VoIP plans and find provider with the cheapest call rates to a certain international destination. Check the provider’s packages and read the fine print before you sign up.