The Basics of VoIP
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology that allows Internet users with high-speed (broadband) access to place telephone calls over the Internet. Current VoIP technology provides the ability to do this with or without a PC. Inexpensive adapters are now available that allow you to interface your regular analog telephone to your broadband Internet connection. Calls can also be placed from your PC using a special piece of software called a softphone.
Although not a new technology, several factors have recently expanded the market for VoIP services. One of these factors is the wide availability of broadband Internet access. VoIP technology originated several years ago, at a time when most home consumers had dialup internet access. However, dialup access does not provide the necessary bandwidth to ensure quality voice calls over the Internet.
Because of these quality issues, VoIP technology was seldom used by consumers other than to make PC to PC calls. This required both parties to be running a softphone on their PC. While the voice quality was not good, users did experience a significant cost-savings – in some cases the service was even free. Now, with the expanded availability of broadband access, these cost savings can be realized without sacrificing quality.
Another factor behind VoIP market growth is the enhanced ability of VoIP service providers to provide an interface to existing analog telephone systems (usually referred to as PSTN or Public Switched Telephone Network). This allows VoIP users to place calls to phones located anywhere in the the world. Calls can be placed to regular analog and cell phone users, regardless of whether or not they have VoIP service.
Another factor is the availability of low-cost adapters that allow a regular analog telephone to be interfaced to the Internet without a PC. This eliminates the need for PC softphones, which are not as convenient as simply picking up the phone and dialing. Using one of these analog telephone adapters (or ATAs) is simple – just plug the phone into the adapter, and plug the adapter into your high-speed Internet router or modem. Your pc does not even need to be turned on to use one of these adapters. Although softphones are no longer required to access VoIP, they can still be used.
As it exists today, VoIP service can provide a significant cost savings over regular phone service. Most of this savings comes from lower long-distance rates – voice calls can be sent over the Internet at a much lower cost than over traditional telephone networks. Also, since VoIP providers do not have to maintain a large physical network, their basic service can be provided at a lower cost. In addition, VoIP provides cost-saving features which did not previously exist – such as virtual phone numbers. A virtual phone number allows you to select the area code for your VoIP phone number(s) – regardless of your physical location. This feature allows callers to place a local call to your phone number from a distant city – in effect placing a long distance call for free.
With its wide range of features and potential cost-savings, VoIP is poised to become a leading solution in telecommunications world-wide. In the recent past, very few people actually considered replacing their regular telephone service with VoIP – it was seen as an enhancement or cost-saving method. But with recent advances, more and more people are using VoIP as their sole provider of telephone service.
How Does Voip Work
VoIP technology provides a way to send an analog signal (the sound of your voice) over a digital medium – the Internet. In order to understand how this process works, we can use a simple real-world example. Let’s say that you have VoIP service and a traditional analog telephone. Your telephone is connected to your high-speed internet connection using an analog telephone adapter (or ATA). We will trace what happens when you place a call from that phone to someone in another city, what would normally be a long-distance call. We will also assume the person you are calling has only regular analog phone service, with no VoIP capability. By the way, this process is the same if you are using a PC softphone, just that the PC performs all of the functions of the ATA.
When you pick up your phone and dial the number, the ATA converts the analog touch-tones into digital form. The resulting digital phone number is sent by the ATA to the VoIP service provider’s routing system, which itself is on the internet. This routing system looks at the number to determine the location the call is going to and routes the call to the PSTN (or Public Switched Telephone Network) at that location (which causes the other person’s phone to ring). Once the call begins, an analog-to-digital converter in the ATA converts the sound of your voice into digital packets that can be split up and sent over the Internet.
On the other end, where your VoIP service connects to the PSTN (via the Internet), these digital packets are converted back into an analog signal that goes to the person you have called. The sound of their voice goes through a similar process, but in reverse. It is converted from analog to digital at the point where the PSTN is connected to the Internet, and is then sent in the form of digital packets to your ATA. Your ATA then converts these digital packets back into an analog signal to provide the voice that you hear on your telephone receiver.
So there are two basic components to the VoIP technology – the analog-to-digital conversion, and the protocol (the “P” in VoIP) that facilitates transmission of digital packets over the Internet. Analog-to-digital conversion has been around since the first days of digital electronics. This technology is built into the sound card on your PC – if you play a CD on your PC, an analog-to-digital converter on your sound card converts the digital data on the CD to the analog signal required by your computer speakers.
The other component, the protocol, is fairly recent. The inventors of VoIP designed a protocol (actually there are several similar ones in use today) that is optimized to transmit digital voice data over the Internet and reassemble it at the other end. A special protocol was needed to do this because of the continuous nature of a voice transmission – there could be no gaps or pauses in the data stream. The result is a protocol that can provide sound quality over the Internet that is at least as good as, and in some cases better than that of the regular telephone networks.
If you use a PC softphone (basically a piece of software that turns your PC into a telephone) to make VoIP calls, you are using the sound card in much the same way. If you are using an analog telephone adapter for VoIP calls, then this adapter has the necessary analog-to-digital hardware incorporated into it. These adapters, like many of the digital devices we use, are actually small, dedicated PCs. Also, some phones are now being manufactured that have the ATA built into them. These phones act like regular analog telephones, but can be plugged directly into your high speed Internet modem or router.
Although this discussion has been as non-technical as possible, you can still see that VoIP is a sophisticated technology. VoIP provides a good example of using a newer technology to greatly enhance an existing one.
Cost-Saving Advantages of VoIP Service
One of the main reasons for the explosive growth in VoIP service is the available cost savings. This cost savings comes from a number of advantages that VoIP has over traditional phone service. In this article, we will explore some of these cost-saving advantages.
The most obvious and most talked about the advantages of VoIP service is the fact that calls can be sent over the Internet much more cheaply than they can be sent over the traditional telephone networks. The main reason for this is the fact that the network already exists – VoIP is simply taking advantage of a huge network that is already available – the Internet. Another reason for this advantage is the way that a call travels over the Internet as compared to traditional telephone networks.
When you place an end-to-end call that uses the regular PSTN, an actual connection has to be maintained between your phone and the phone of the receiving party. This connection is dedicated to that call, and cannot be used for anything else while the call is still in progress. This process is called circuit switching – your call is routed through a series of switches in order to make a dedicated connection from your phone to the receiving phone. This dedicated connection costs money – and it has to be maintained.
VoIP, on the other hand, does not require this type of dedicated connection. VoIP provides a way of sending analog voice signals in digital form using packets. These packets can be split up, routed the fastest way, and put back together at the other end. This process is known as packet-switching, and is made possible by the “protocol” portion of VoIP. This protocol provides a way to disassemble and reassemble these packets fast enough to carry the voice signal without interruption. This allows a more efficient use of the available bandwidth, resulting in lower costs.
Another reason for the lower cost of VoIP when compared to the traditional phone service is the fact that VoIP service providers are not classified by government regulating agencies as phone companies. This means that they and their service are not subject to the special fees and taxes that apply to most traditional phone companies. They can pass this savings along to you in a couple of ways. First, they are not required to charge you for any special fees or taxes. Secondly, their cost of doing business is lower, and they can pass this along to you in the form of a lower basic rate.
Other cost savings are possible when using VoIP because of its rich feature set. One feature that adds convenience as well as savings is a virtual phone number. Most VoIP service providers allow you to choose an area code anywhere they provide service, regardless of where you are physically located. If you normally place a lot of calls to a particular long-distance area code, this feature can be used to save almost the entire cost of those calls. By choosing the area code for your VoIP number to be a local call for that area, you will not be charged any long-distance fees when calling that area code – it is for all intents and purposes a local call. By the same token, callers who call you from that area code will not be charged for a long-distance call, either.
As you can see, the reasons for staying with your traditional phone service are disappearing rapidly. As VoIP technology continues to evolve, you can expect more cost saving features to become available.
Choosing the Best VoIP Features
One of the advantages of VoIP is the number of features that it has to offer. Deciding which features are important to you is necessary when choosing a service provider, so this article will briefly discuss some of the more common features. You can use the comparison chart at this site to quickly compare features offered by the various VoIP service providers.
There are some basic features that are offered by almost all of the best VoIP providers. These include caller id, call waiting and call forwarding. Voice mail is included at no cost by most providers, but there is a distinct advantage unique to VoIP – web-based access to voice mail. This allows you to listen to your voicemail from any PC that has access to the Internet. Some providers even offer an option to send these messages to your email address in the form of an attachment. You can then listen to them using the media player on your PC.
Some of the more advanced features offered by most of the VoIP providers include 3-way calling and virtual phone numbers. 3-way calling is another name for a conference call – the advantage with VoIP is that anyone can set up a 3-way call by simply dialing the other two parties. Virtual phone numbers allow you to select the area code that you want to be assigned to your phone number. This allows you to make local calls to distant area codes, regardless of your physical location.
Another advanced feature offered by some providers is that of fax capability. This allows faxes to be sent over your VoIP connection. Video phone capability is another feature that is available to VoIP users. While not widely available as of yet, some service providers do offer this.
VoIP 911 service capability is another feature offered by most VoIP providers. This is one feature that you will need to compare carefully if you plan to use your VoIP connection to place emergency calls. Some providers have basic 911 service, which allows you to place local 911 calls, but does not provide the 911 operator with your physical address information. E911 service (or Enhanced 911 service) is available from some providers, and it does provide this address information to the 911 operator.
The ability to use a softphone is another feature offered by some providers. This will be important to you if you plan to access your VoIP service while traveling. This can be done by using a softphone installed on your laptop PC. Also, some VoIP providers require you to use a softphone or USB phone that requires software to be running on your PC. With these providers, you may not be able to use an analog telephone adapter (or ATA) to place calls with your existing analog telephone. This also means that your PC will need to be up and running in order to use your VoIP service.
Two more features that you may want to look for are add a line capability and toll-free numbers. Add a line allows you to add an additional phone number for a small fee. This is especially important if you plan to take advantage of virtual phone numbers. Toll-free numbers operate the same way as with traditional phones – they allow people to place calls to you from throughout the US and Canada at no charge. Also, they have a toll-free prefix (such as 1-800 or 1-866) that is easily recognizable as being a toll-free number.
The best VoIP services offer users many additional features besides the ones discussed here. Some of these features are similar to the ones offered by the traditional phone companies, but most are available for less cost when using VoIP. Other features offer enhancements that are not available with regular phone service. Many of the features that are considered “extra” with traditional phone service are included in the basic cost of VoIP service.
If you are considering taking advantage of the cost savings available with VoIP, be sure and compare the cost of the features that are important to you. You will be pleasantly surprised when you compare this cost against what you are paying for these features with your existing telephone service.
Why Use VoIP | The Advantages
Everybody is talking about VoIP being the wave of the future in telecommunications, but what are some of its advantages? This is an easy question to answer, since there are so many advantages to VoIP. We will address some of the major ones in this article.
The most important advantage, and also the most talked-about, is that of cost savings. VoIP provides a significant cost savings over telephone service from the traditional providers. This is particularly true in the area of long distance rates, with many VoIP service providers offering plans with unlimited long distance calling at a low monthly flat rate. Very few traditional carriers offer affordable unlimited service – even if they do the monthly rate is prohibitive for the average consumer. So most consumers end up paying some form of per-minute rate for their long distance.
Most VoIP service providers offer some form of unlimited usage plan, and they range in price from approximately $15 – $30 per month. Yes, that’s right – unlimited long distance for less than $30 per month. These plans are usually restricted to the US and Canada, but some providers offer international unlimited plans as well.
Another area where VoIP provides a significant cost advantage is that of lower basic rates. VoIP providers do not have the overhead costs of maintaining large networks, and they can pass this savings along to the consumer. In addition, VoIP providers are not subject to the regulatory and tax restrictions that are placed on traditional telephone carriers. This lowers their cost of doing business and they can pass this savings along as well. In addition, they are not required to collect the taxes and fees associated with traditional telephone service.
The other area where VoIP service provides significant advantages is that of available features. Because of the fact that VoIP is a digital technology, the feature set is extensive when compared to traditional telephone service. Some of the available VoIP features do not even exist in the traditional market, while others are greatly enhanced. Besides the advantage of having these features available, some of them can be used to achieve significant cost savings as well.
One feature that is unique to VoIP, and can also be used to lower costs, is that of virtual phone numbers. Since VoIP is not geographically based, providers are able to assign any area code that they have available to a given number. This allows you to choose the area code that you want your phone number to have, even if you are not physically located in that area. You will pay a small surcharge for this option, but the cost savings are significant. There are a couple of ways to save money by using a virtual phone number.
If you normally place a lot of long distance calls to a given area code, then you can make any call to that area code a local call by simply choosing that area code for your VoIP phone number. You may not wish to do this with your primary phone number – this would most likely mean that your local area would become a long distance call. But if you make many calls to that area code in a given month, then a second number with the other area code could be added, and you would still save all of the long distance charges to that area.
A virtual phone number can also be used in a reverse manner – if you have a small business, or have a lot of calls to, and from relatives in a distant city, then a virtual number could be used to eliminate long distance charges for the people who call you from that area code. You could, in effect, provide your business customers or relatives with a toll-free number to call you.
One feature that is greatly enhanced by VoIP service is that of multi-party (or conference) calling. While this feature is available from most traditional telephone providers, it is quite expensive. Most VoIP providers offer 3-way calling at no extra charge, and some have the capability to bring 3 or more additional people into a conversation. There is one thing that you need to consider when thinking about multi-party calling – each call takes its own little slice of bandwidth. So you will need to make sure that you have sufficient bandwidth available from your high speed Internet connection if you plan to rely on this feature. Some of the VoIP provider sites have a bandwidth checker which can be used to check the actual bandwidth that your connection is providing. You can compare this number against the bandwidth recommended for each call by your VoIP provider.
There are many other available advantages to using VoIP. These include web-based voice mail, which allows you to listen to your voicemail from any PC connected to the Internet, whether dialup or high speed. Also, while traveling, you can access your VoIP service from any PC with high speed access by using a softphone. This allows your phone service to “travel with you”. Because of its digital roots, you can expect even more unique or enhanced features to become available to VoIP users.
Disadvantages of VoIP
Although VoIP does provide plenty of advantages and features, there are a few disadvantages to this new technology that you should be aware of. This article will briefly discuss these disadvantages.
Probably the most widely talked-about disadvantage of VoIP concerns 911 emergency service. Due to the fact that VoIP is not geographically based, there can be problems with connecting to local 911 emergency service. 911 emergency services were designed around the traditional PSTN telephone network. The method used to provide your home address information to the 911 operator is built into the phone system. VoIP can not take advantage of this feature, so providers have had to devise other methods of address reporting.
The first thing to be aware of is the difference between 911 and E911 (or Enhanced 911 ) service. Basic 911 service means that, when you dial 911, you will be connected to the local 911 emergency operator based on the local address you have furnished to your VoIP provider. Your address information will not be reported. E911 service means that your address will be provided to the operator in electronic form – if you are unable to speak for some reason, the operator is still able to dispatch police and fire units to your location.
With both types of VoIP 911 service, the local 911 service that is contacted is dependent on the local address you provide when you sign up for VoIP service. The important distinction with VoIP and E911 service is that the address reported by your VoIP provider is the address you provide when you sign up for VoIP service. So it is important for you to keep your VoIP provider updated with your current address if you move.
Another disadvantage of VoIP is that it depends on your high speed internet access to be up and running. If your ISP is having problems and your connection is not available, you will not be able to place VoIP calls. Most ISP’s are extremely reliable, but this fact does need to be considered. You would not likely want to rely on VoIP as your sole method of telephone communications.
A similar disadvantage can occur during a local power outage. If the power is out in your local area, then it is likely that your high-speed connection will be down due to the power outage. This is not usually the case with regular telephone service, as providers have large backup generators to insure that the telephone system stays up and running. However, ISPs are beginning to address this problem, and some do provide backup capabilities.
Even if your high-speed connection is functional during a power outage, you would not have power to your high-speed modem or router or any ATAs that you may be. This means that you would still not be able to access VoIP services unless you have some type of local backup for these devices. Most VoIP users solve this problem by maintaining basic telephone service just for emergency use. Also, cell phones can be used as a means of backup, but keep in mind that power outages can affect local cell towers as well.
One other disadvantage of VoIP is that it may not be quite as secure as your regular telephone service. It is highly unlikely that anyone would be able to intercept your phone calls as they are transmitted over the Internet, but it is theoretically possible. However, keep in mind the fact that the traditional telephone service providers are using the Internet to carry some long distance calls.
As you can see, there are a few disadvantages to VoIP. Some of these are being addressed by ISPs and VoIP providers, while others are likely to remain. None of these disadvantages is great enough, however, to keep you from taking advantage of the cost savings and extra features offered by VoIP service.
Traveling with VoIP
One of the advantages of VoIP is that it “travels well”. You can literally take your telephone service with you when you use VoIP. This is made possible through the use of a device called a softphone. A softphone is a piece of software that allows you to use your PC to place and receive VoIP telephone calls over the Internet. Using a softphone and your laptop, your VoIP telephone service is available to you anywhere that you have high speed internet access available. Increasing numbers of hotels, airports and other travel-related businesses are providing high speed access for their customers, so it is easier than ever to take advantage of this VoIP feature.
If you travel a lot, and plan to use your VoIP services while you are away, then make sure that you check to see if a potential provider offers a softphone option – not all providers offer this service. You might even want to download some of the softphones offered by providers to see if there is one that you prefer.
Another advantage of VoIP that is well-suited for traveling is web-based voice mail. Web-based voice mail allows you to check your voicemail messages from any computer with Internet access – dial up or high speed. Most all VoIP providers offer this as a standard option. Providers typically provide you with a web page that you can log onto and check for messages. The voice mail messages are stored as sound files, and can be played back on your softphone or any PC media player. Most providers also offer an option to forward your voicemail messages to your email address. They do this by sending an email message with the date, time and caller information, and attach the message to the email as a sound file. You might find this option more convenient, as it allows you to check email and voice messages at the same time.
VoIP offers the more traditional type of voice mail as well. Most providers offer toll-free access to voicemail. This is usually included in the basic service. So if you are traveling and need to quickly check for messages, you do not need to set up your PC. If this option is important to you, be sure and check for available access numbers before choosing a provider.
VoIP has at least one other advantage important to travelers. Since your VoIP phone number, as well as all of your services travel with you, a call placed to your home area will be a local call. This is because even though you may be in Chicago, the area code for your phone number is still in your home area. In addition, if your family or business associates wish to call you while you are away, they will be placing a local call.
In summary, if you travel a considerable amount for business or pleasure, then you should look for a service provider that offers the options that have been discussed. The most important ones are access to web-based voice mail, email delivery of voice mail messages and toll-free access to voicemail.
VoIP offers distinct advantages to many types of customers. If your travel a lot, you can easily take advantage of these features while your are on the road. In addition, you can still take advantage of the cost savings offered by VoIP, whether you are at home or away.
Using VoIP for Local Calls
Since VoIP is widely advertised as a way of making low-cost long distance calls, you may be wondering if you can make local calls with VoIP. Yes, you can – and will likely save on overall telephone costs while doing so. In fact, VoIP has actually changed the definition of a local phone number. This article will discuss some of the aspects of local calling using VoIP.
First, you will want to make sure that the provider you choose provides access to the PSTN (or Public Switched Telephone Network). This is what you probably know as your local phone company. Some VoIP providers do not offer this access – they only allow you to make Internet calls. Once you have selected a provider that provides access to PSTN, then the process of making local calls is the same as it is with your regular telephone service provider.
One advantage that VoIP has in this area is the ability to assign any available area code to your telephone number(s). This is due to the fact that VoIP is not geographically based. If you choose a local area code for your phone number, then this number is just like the local number provided by regular telephone providers. However, you can create a virtual phone number by choosing an area code from another city or area – even if this area is normally a long distance from your area.
This would then mean that calls to and from your new virtual phone number would be local calls – even though made to an area that would normally be long distance. There would be no long distance charges involved. Also, anyone in that area code who called your virtual phone number would be placing a local call.
This has its advantages for small business owners. If your business is located in one area, but you have a large number of customers in another area, you would be able to provide them with local access to you with a virtual phone number. This number would have an area code that they would recognize as a local call, thus giving you a “presence” in their area.
Another aspect of local VoIP calls that you may be wondering about is 911 emergency calls. If this is important to you, then first make sure that the provider offers basic 911 or Enhanced 911 (E911) service in your area. The major difference between basic and Enhanced 911 service is that basic service will not provide the local 911 operator with your address information in electronic form. E911 service will provide this information.
Also, keep in mind that with VoIP E911 service, the information provided is dependent on you keeping your VoIP provider up to date with your address information. In other words if you move without reporting your new address to your VoIP provider, any calls made to E911 service would provide your old address information. Please note, in addition, that at this point it is not recommended that you rely solely on VoIP as a means of reaching 911 emergency services. For a detailed discussion of this subject, see the VoIP 911 article in this series.
As you can see, you can use VoIP for all of your telephone needs, including all of your local calls. In addition, the cost savings advantages of VoIP may make it the ideal overall solution for your needs. If you have broadband Internet access, or are considering upgrading to broadband soon, then now would be a good time to begin choosing a VoIP service provider. You can do this using some of the other tools at this site, such as the VoIP comparison chart and the VoIP reviews.
Choosing VoIP Calling Plans
VoIP service providers offer a wide range of service plans for their product. This article will point out some of the things that you should be aware of when selecting a plan.
Plans and prices vary widely among VoIP service providers, but all of them will provide significant advantages in both features and price when compared to regular telephone service. You can use the VoIP comparison chart to obtain a quick overview of each provider’s most popular plans. The chart has entries to compare the most popular plans in 4 categories – least price for limited usage, lowest price for unlimited plan, minimum business plan and costliest business plan.
Least price for limited usage – Most providers offer a minimum plan with a fixed number of anytime calling minutes available. These plans will include all of the basic features of VoIP, including caller id, call waiting, call forwarding and web-based voice mail. These plans will also quote a low per-minute rate for calls exceeding the monthly limit.
Lowest price for unlimited plan – These plans offer the best overall value for most residential users. They will include the basic VoIP feature set, plus unlimited calling for calls placed to the US and Canada. The price for these plans is astounding when compared with any other type of long-distance plan (regular or cellular). Also, these plans apply to calls placed anytime during the day or night.
Minimum business plan – VoIP providers, just like regular or cellular providers, have different plans available for business use. These minimum plans are similar to the residential plans, but usually have a higher number of minutes available. Also, most all VoIP business plans include a fax line at no additional charge.
Costliest business plan – These plans typically offer more included features than the minimum plan, plus unlimited anytime calling to the US and Canada. As with the minimum plan, a fax line is included.
Most service providers offer these plans based on a fixed period of 1 or 2 years. For a slightly higher fee, you can choose to sign up for month-to-month service. If you choose to sign up for a fixed period, note that a fee may be charged for early cancellation. However, most providers waive cancellation fees during the first 30 days of a contract. This gives you a chance to evaluate their service without risk.
Another item to consider when choosing a plan is activation fees. Not all providers charge an activation fee to begin with, and some of them will waive this fee if you agree to a 1 or 2 year term. Another consideration is the cost of equipment. Some providers offer free ATAs (or analog telephone adapters) or USB softphones. This is more common for plans that specify a term, but is available from some providers even if you sign up on a month-to-month basis.
International calling may be a consideration for you as well. First, make sure that a provider has international calling available. Then, visit their site, where you will find a list of per-minute rates for calls to each country. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by the low rates.
With the wide range of plans and services available from VoIP providers, you should be able to easily find a plan that meets your needs. Be sure and take advantage of the tools available at this site, including the VoIP comparison chart, the VoIP reviews and the other articles on VoIP technology.
Virtual Phone Number – A Unique Advantage of VoIP
One of the advantages of VoIP is that it is not geographically based. This allows VoIP to offer users some features that are not available from analog telephone service providers. The ability to have a virtual phone number is one such feature. VoIP allows providers the capability of assigning available area codes to any number, regardless of the physical location of the subscriber. For example, you may reside in the Los Angeles area of the United States. If your VoIP provider offers virtual area codes, then they may be able to provide you with an area code that belongs to the New York City area. There are a number of ways that you can use virtual phone numbers to your advantage.
One way to save money with a virtual phone number is to choose an area code in an area that is normally long distance for you. Calls to this area will then be local calls, and calls made from this area to you will be local as well. There will be no long distance charges for calls in either direction. Using the example from above, you would be able to call New York City from Los Angeles, and it would be the same as a local call. People in New York City could call you in Los Angeles, and it would be a local call for them as well.
If you have relatives or friends in a distant area, and normally place a lot of long distance calls to them, then you can save all of these long distance costs by getting a virtual phone number for this area. You probably do not want to use this feature with your primary phone number, as that would mean that calls to your actual local area would become long distance calls. The solution to this is to use the “add a line” feature offered by many VoIP providers. This allows you to add another phone number to your VoIP service for a small cost, often around $5. If you assign this distant area code to the new number, then you can place local calls to that area using the new number. If you provide your friends and relatives in this city with your new number, they will be able to place local calls to you as well.
Business owners can also use virtual phone numbers to their advantage. Let’s say that you have a business located in Dallas, Texas. You have a large number of customers in Ft. Worth, Texas, which is not that far away but is a long distance call using regular telephone service. If you add a virtual number to your VoIP account, and choose a Ft. Worth area code, then your customers in Ft. Worth can make local calls to you. This saves them the cost of long distance calls, and provides a local “presence” in the form of a local phone number for you. In addition, you will then be able to place local calls to these customers.
Your local telephone service provider can probably provide you with a local number to a distant city, but the cost will definitely not be $5 per month. They would have to dedicate an entire analog telephone line to this task, and the cost would definitely not be low. Also, you might be able to obtain an inbound only toll-free number from your regular provider for say $50 per month, but this would not have the advantage of providing a local “presence” in that city.
Virtual phone numbers are just one of the ways in which VoIP is changing the way we communicate. They can be used to add convenience and lower costs – so why not consider trying VoIP service today?
VoIP Security and Your Personal Privacy
As Internet usage has increased rapidly in recent years, a number of personal privacy issues have been raised. VoIP is no exception to this, as it is an Internet-based technology. This article will discuss some of the issues involved as they relate to VoIP.
Most Internet users today are probably aware that their un-encrypted email messages are somewhat vulnerable to being intercepted and read by third parties. This was given little thought by most users in the early days of the Internet. It was not until email became the primary vehicle used by hackers to spread viruses that most people became concerned with this issue. In response to this, ISPs and software makers began offering solutions to make sure that email remains relatively virus free.
Although this could probably still be considered the early days of VoIP, the two technologies are not quite the same. They both travel over the Internet, but in a different manner. One of the things that makes email especially vulnerable is that it is stored and forwarded by servers that are connected to the Internet. Since messages are stored for some period of time until deleted, the potential ability to access them is increased.
On the other hand, voice calls carried via VoIP are only temporary in nature, they are not stored and backed up as email messages are. This means that anyone wishing to intercept a voice call made with VoIP would have to do so while the call is in process. (The exception to this would be voice mail messages, which are stored in the form of a file.) This means that as far as interception is concerned, VoIP calls are similar to regular telephone calls – they are temporary in nature.
It is possible to intercept VoIP calls as they travel over the Internet. But neither the technology nor the knowledge needed to do this is widely available. It is at least as difficult for someone to do this as it is for someone to penetrate the regular telephone network from a distance and monitor calls – and this is quite difficult. So the fact remains that anyone wishing to “snoop” on your VoIP calls would probably resort to the same method they would use for a regular analog telephone call – They would place some type of “bug” in or near your actual telephone or attached to the telephone wires as they enter your residence.
There is concern about this issue in the VoIP community, however. The solution to any concerns about vulnerability will probably be the same solution that has been presented for email. This solution is to encrypt VoIP calls so that if they are intercepted they are unintelligible. Encryption software is widely available for email and files that are sent over the Internet. This same type of software is being developed by VoIP hardware and software manufacturers. In fact, some VoIP providers have already incorporated encryption capability into their ATAs and softphones.
If you are using VoIP in the United States, then you should be aware of the fact that VoIP is still a “grey” area as far as Federal wire-tapping and regulatory laws are concerned. This is due to the fact that the FCC and the courts have not decided on whether or not VoIP should be classified as a “communications service” or as an “information service”.
The laws governing these two classes are different. In particular, if VoIP is classified as a “communications service”, then VoIP providers will be required to provide the FBI and other government agencies with some way to perform wiretaps. As of now, VoIP is still being considered as an “information service”, and VoIP providers are not required to do this.
So what precautions should you take if you are concerned about personal privacy when using VoIP? Probably the most important one would be not to leave sensitive information in voice mail messages. These will reside on a server somewhere, possibly for an extended length of time and would therefore be more vulnerable than a regular voice call. You should also ask your potential VoIP provider about their encryption capabilities. As previously mentioned, encryption hardware and software is already available from some providers. Past these precautions, you should be just as careful with information such as your birthday, social security number and credit card numbers as you are with any other means of communications.
Personal privacy concerns should not stand in the way of your taking advantage of the features and cost savings available with VoIP. If you do have concerns in this area, rest assured that VoIP providers are hard at work staying “one step ahead” of any potential for abuse that exists.
VoIP gateways are highly specialized devices that allow a great deal of flexibility in implementing VoIP in a small business environment. This article will discuss some of the features and capabilities that are available with VoIP gateways.
A VoIP gateway typically allows an existing small business telephone system to be connected to a high-speed Internet connection to provide VoIP capability. Many varieties of gateways are available, to allow interfacing to a wide variety of existing telephone systems. A basic VoIP gateway will typically connect a 2 or more line phone system, with or without a PBX, to the Internet. This, in conjunction with VoIP service from a provider, will allow VoIP calls to be placed from existing telephones.
There are basically two types of gateways available. The first type is designed to provide a complete VoIP telephone solution, and may or may not include an interface to existing systems. This is the type you would probably choose when setting up a new business or location where VoIP is to be your primary telephone service. Regular telephone service might only be installed as a backup to VoIP service. These types of gateways are very similar to VoIP routers, except that they do not usually implement the PC network.
The second type of VoIP gateway is one that is designed to interface to an existing telephone system. You would probably choose this type if you have already invested heavily in telephone equipment, but still wished to take advantage of VoIP features and cost savings. These types of gateways can be quite complex technically, so you will probably want to talk to your telephone equipment supplier, as well as your telephone service provider, before choosing one of these types. This type typically includes a specialized interface to a particular phone system or PBX.
Both types of gateways might also provide an additional function – that of interfacing your VoIP phones to the regular telephone system. This type of two-way interface provides the greatest flexibility to someone with an existing telephone system. VoIP can be used where there are advantages in cost or features, and the regular telephone service is still available from the same phones. You can maximize your cost savings without having to completely change the way you use the telephone.
Another aspect to using VoIP gateways in a small business environment is that of connecting physical locations. If your business has locations in different cities, and the PCs at these locations are already networked over the Internet, then VoIP gateways can be used to connect the phone systems at the different locations. This would eliminate long distance charges between these locations – these calls would now be carried over the Internet at a much lower monthly rate.
One consideration when using VoIP gateways in this manner is that of available bandwidth. You should consult with the ISP that hosts your in-house network to make sure that there is enough bandwidth available to cover the normal network traffic plus the added bandwidth of the VoIP calls. For more information on bandwidth requirements, see the VoIP Bandwidth article in this series.
Whether you use VoIP as your primary means of telephone communications, or as an enhancement to an existing system, VoIP gateways provide a cost effective solution to implementing VoIP in your small business. You can use some of the other tools on this site, such as the VoIP Comparison Chart, to help you compare small business rates and capabilities of different VoIP providers. For more information on a provider, use the convenient link to their website.
VoIP International – Long Distance Calling
VoIP has experienced wide growth primarily due to lower costs for long distance calls. While most unlimited plans are for calls to the US and Canada, a significant savings on international calls is possible with VoIP as well. This article will discuss some of the options available to VoIP users who do a lot of international calling.
International calling has been a strong suit for VoIP since it was introduced. Since the early days of VoIP, users have been able to place free or almost free PC-to-PC calls using VoIP. PC-to-PC calls require both users to be running compatible softphones, and international callers were more likely to download and install these in order to save money. In fact, many international callers could not afford to make country-to-country calls before VoIP.
Some VoIP providers still offer free or reduced rate PC-to-PC calls. So you can still take advantage of this when calling other VoIP users that use the same provider and softphone that you use. If this is important to you, check the VoIP Comparison Chart to make sure that a provider offers a softphone as an option, as this will be necessary to take advantage of this.
With the increased growth in the number of VoIP subscribers using ATAs, most VoIP providers now offer international phone-to-phone calling at very low per-minute rates. Use the links to provider sites in the VoIP Comparison Chart to see some of the available rates. Most provider sites include a list of countries along with the per-minute rates for calls to those countries. This will give you a good overview of the types of savings that are available. You can take advantage of these rates using the basic service plan available from most providers.
Many providers have also introduced plans with limited or unlimited international calling. The limited plans allow a set number of minutes for international calls, while the unlimited plans allow any amount of monthly calling to foreign countries. Most of these plans are for business accounts, but some providers offer plans to residential customers as well. The main limitation of these plans is that calls may only be placed to certain countries. You should check the list of countries included in the unlimited international plan that you are considering to make sure it includes countries that you wish to call.
Another exciting aspect of international calling with VoIP is that of having an international virtual telephone number. VoIP offers the ability to assign any available area code to a VoIP telephone number This is called a virtual phone number – the area code can be different from the physical location of the user. This can be extended to international phone numbers by assigning a country code as well as area code that exists in a foreign country. This number will then be available, as a local call, to anyone who calls you from that country and area code.
International calling is one area that VoIP can be used to save money. If you are considering VoIP, and international calling is important to you, you will be pleasantly surprised at the available rates. In addition, you may be able to choose a plan that allows unlimited long distance calls to a country that you call quite often – the resulting savings will be significant.
VoIP Bandwidth Requirements
One consideration that needs to be made in choosing VoIP is the fact that it uses considerable bandwidth. VoIP requires a high-speed Internet connection for reliable operation, and most high-speed connections have a limited amount of bandwidth available. This article will discuss some of the aspects of VoIP bandwidth.
Most residential users of VoIP will not experience any bandwidth problems with their existing high-speed Internet connection. These connections typically provide more bandwidth than is necessary for quality VoIP calls to be made. However, it would still be a good idea to find out how much bandwidth you have available and how much is required by your VoIP service. For business users with multiple lines, bandwidth is a serious consideration for VoIP, so more care needs to be taken.
The minimum bandwidth of a high-speed Internet connection is approximately 384kbps (or kilobits per second). The maximum can be as much as 7mbps (megabits per second) or more. A VoIP call made with the highest quality setting will require around 100kbps of this bandwidth. A fax sent over VoIP will require about the same amount. So, as you can see, most connections should easily provide enough bandwidth for one or two simultaneous voice calls. But it would be a good idea for you to check how much bandwidth you have available.
Many VoIP providers have utilities posted on their site that allow you to check for available bandwidth. They usually do this by downloading one or several large files to your hard drive. This is a good way to check bandwidth, as file downloads will use as much as is available. They then calculate the available bandwidth based on the size of the file and the time that it took to download. You should run several of these tests at one time and average the results. You should also run these tests at several different times during the day. Keep in mind that response in general is slowest during business hours, as this is when the Internet is experiencing the heaviest load.
Also, keep in mind that you need enough bandwidth to cover normal Internet usage as well as VoIP calls. This will likely not be a problem with normal surfing, but activities such as large file or image downloads consume a large amount of bandwidth. So you may want to try these tests while someone is using the Internet from another PC. Have them download some files or images while you are running your tests – the test results will show if the bandwidth goes below the minimum required for a quality VoIP call.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while voice calls are somewhat tolerant of reduced bandwidth, sending and receiving of faxes is not. Fax protocols do not allow for missing or heavily delayed packets, so a fax transmission may not complete if sufficient bandwidth is not available. You should make sure that you have enough bandwidth available to handle each voice or fax line at 100kbps each, plus enough to handle your normal Internet activity.
If you have concerns about available bandwidth, you should contact your Internet service provider. Most have more than one bandwidth setting, and yours may be at the minimum. But keep in mind that you will likely pay a higher monthly fee for a higher bandwidth setting. Also, if you have DSL access, the available bandwidth is dependent on the quality of the telephone wiring between your home or business and the nearest wiring station. It may be that your bandwidth limit was determined by this check before your service was installed.
So how will I know if I am having bandwidth problems? If you are already using VoIP, bandwidth problems will most likely show up in the form of calls “breaking up” or (rarely) being “dropped” – similar to what you sometimes experience with cellular calls. If you have either of these symptoms, then limited bandwidth could likely be the cause.
Bandwidth is a consideration when using VoIP, but as you can see, it should not be a problem for most users. Running a few simple tests can provide you with some assurance that your VoIP experience will be a pleasant one.
VoIP Quality and the Differences
With the recent development of ATAs (Analog Telephone Adapters), the process of making a VoIP call is no different on the surface than that of making a regular call. You simply pick up the phone, listen for the dial tone, and make a call. No PC is required, and the quality is likely just as good as the old way. However, there are still some underlying differences that you should be aware of.
One difference with VoIP service is that your broadband Internet connection has to be up and running. With the reliability of today’s ISPs, this is not usually a problem, but does bear noting. If your ISP is experiencing problems, you may not be able to place a call using VoIP.
Another difference is what happens during a power outage. You have likely experienced a power outage in your area, picked up the phone and found that it still worked. This is due to the fact that most local telephone companies have large backup generators which provide power during an outage. Some ISPs have this same type of backup capability, but you should check with your ISP to see if this is the case for your broadband Internet access.
Even if your broadband connection is still active during a power outage, you will not have power to your broadband modem or to the ATA on your phone. This problem can be solved by using a UPS for these devices, but still needs to be considered. Your cell phone might be a more cost effective way of ensuring communications during a power outage.
911 service is another area where VoIP may be different than your local telephone company service. The availability of service to local 911 operators via a VoIP connection varies. While most VoIP service providers include 911 routing service, it may not provide the same capability (such as reporting your address) as the regular 911 phone service. If you plan to rely on your VoIP connection for emergency service, you should investigate carefully before choosing a provider. A lot of people choose to keep basic service on their regular phone just for emergencies. In addition, a cell phone can be used to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
Another difference that needs to be considered with VoIP service is available bandwidth. If you have a home network and someone else is downloading large files, this may temporarily lower the available bandwidth enough to affect voice quality. It would be a good idea to check the total bandwidth capability of your connection and compare this against what your VoIP service provider recommends. Make sure that there is enough extra bandwidth available to handle normal access to the Internet for your home network.
Most of the other differences in VoIP service are in the form of distinct advantages. Features such as virtual phone numbers or web access to voicemail either do not exist with regular telephone service, or cost too much to be considered. Another such feature is the ability to place calls to multiple parties. This can be done at no additional cost with most VoIP service providers. With a regular telephone company, placing a simple 3-way call can be quite costly.
As you can see, the differences between VoIP and regular telephone service are disappearing quickly. Keep in mind that, since VoIP technology is rapidly evolving, some of the differences discussed here may well be gone tomorrow. In particular, VoIP providers are devoting a lot of resources to resolving 911 issues.
VoIP and 911 Service
VoIP is a relatively new technology that is evolving rapidly. One of the areas that has attracted a lot of attention is that of 911 service when using VoIP. Availability of 911 service is often touted as a major disadvantage to using VoIP service. While this area has been a problem in the past, the situation is changing rapidly. In fact, this may not be a problem at all for some people. This article will discuss the current state of this issue, and try to determine what the future holds as well.
One of the major advantages of VoIP is that it is not geographically based. This allows unique features such as virtual phone numbers and web-based voice mail to be made available at very reasonable costs. This same advantage also causes some problems with VoIP in the area of 911 emergency calls. This is because 911 service is very geographically based – when you place a call to 911, you want to be able to reach the emergency services in your area, not for example the area where your virtual phone number’s area code is located. So how are VoIP service providers handling this situation?
Most, but not all VoIP service providers have a basic 911 service capability. In this case, basic means that, given the physical address that you provide them with, they can connect you to a local 911 service operator when you dial 911. This basic 911 service is likely not the same as that provided by your local telephone service provider, however. One big difference is that the 911 operator will not be electronically provided with your physical address when you call 911. If you are able to dial the phone, but unable to speak in a manner that the operator can understand, they may not be able to determine your actual location. Also, it might be that a child is calling 911 on your behalf – they know to dial 911 but are not sure of your address. This is not the same as caller id, as telephone 911 service uses a different, more reliable method of reporting not just your phone number, but your physical address as well. So this is an important distinction when talking about basic 911 service. Also, please note that not all existing telephone 911 services have this address reporting capability to begin with – so you might not be giving anything up with basic 911 service provided by VoIP.
Progress is being made in this area, though. Some VoIP service providers are now offering what is called “Enhanced 911 Service” or “E911 Service”. The enhancement in this case is that they are able to electronically provide the physical location (that you provide to them) to the local 911 services operator in your area. Again, this is dependent on the physical location that you provide to your VoIP service provider. The important distinction here is that if, for example, you move two blocks from where you were previously, you need to update your VoIP service provider with your new address – otherwise they will still be reporting your old address if you place a 911 emergency call. This differs from the E911 service provided by a local telephone service provider in that they know your physical address inherently – they have a physical wire running to your home so this is easy for them to determine.
There is one other area where 911 service is different between the two technologies. In the event of a power outage in your area, regular telephone 911 service is usually still available. This is because your local telephone service provider has large backup generators which provide power to the entire network in the event of a power outage. This may not be the case with your high speed internet connection – as your ISP may not have this backup capability. In addition to this, even if your high speed connection is available during a power outage, the power to your ATA or computer is still absent – and you will not be able to place VoIP calls without these devices being powered up to connect you to the Internet. Also, note that this may be a problem even if you have regular telephone 911 service – if you have all cordless phones in your home that rely on line power, they will not operate during a power outage either.
This pretty well sums up the current state of 911 service and VoIP. It may be that E911 service is available from your VoIP service provider and so there is no problem with address reporting. But since you cannot rely on having an active Internet connection during a power outage, it is probably best that you do not rely on VoIP as your sole way of reaching emergency services. Most VoIP customers either maintain basic service on their regular telephone just for emergencies, or they rely on cell phones to provide 911 backup service. Rest assured that this situation will change in the future – broadband access providers as well as VoIP service providers are fast at work on solutions to this issue.
Using ATA VoIP Phone Adapters
Analog Telephone Adapters (or ATAs) are one of the recent developments in VoIP technology. These adapters allow you to use your existing analog telephones to place calls over the Internet using VoIP. Because of these adapters, using VoIP is not much different today than using a regular telephone service. They allow your VoIP service to “act like” a traditional phone – you hear a dial tone when you pick up the phone and dial the number.
An ATA, like many of the devices in today’s digital world, is actually a small, highly dedicated computer. It performs several functions that are required for VoIP communications. One function is that of providing an analog interface for the telephone. This includes providing a dial tone to your analog telephone, as well as a ring signal for incoming calls. Another function it provides is that of converting the analog voice signal into a digital form that can be carried over the internet. Similarly, it must also convert the incoming digital signal into an analog one that your telephone can understand. The final function is that of handling the VoIP connection to the Internet. This includes the connection to your VoIP service provider as well as the routing of digital voice packets – the “protocol” portion of VoIP.
There are two basic types of ATAs available. Both types provide one or more connections to an analog telephone. The difference between the two types is the type of network connection they require. One type connects to the network via a USB port on a personal computer. This USB type of ATA requires a software program running on the PC in order to access the Internet. This requires the PC to be up and running in order to use the VoIP service, but may provide a more convenient way of connecting your analog telephones.
The other type interfaces directly to your high speed cable or DSL modem or directly to your home network. This type typically uses Ethernet as its connection to the Internet, and operates on its own – no software is required. This is the most convenient type of adapter, since it does not require your PC to even be turned on – as long as the high speed connection is active, you will have access to your VoIP service.
Using an ATA is quite simple. After plugging in the power supply to the unit, there are only two other connections to be made. One connector on the ATA provides a place to plug in the telephone cable from your analog telephone(s). The other connector is used to connect the ATA to either a USB port on your PC, or to your high speed modem or router (Ethernet connection). If you are using the USB type, then the software needs to be installed and run on the PC that the ATA is connected to. If you are using the Ethernet type, you are ready to start calling as soon as the connections are complete.
There are two other options that bear mention when choosing an ATA. One is the fact that some VoIP providers have available analog telephones with the ATA already incorporated into them. You may find this more convenient than a standalone ATA, but check with providers while you are choosing your service, as not all providers offer these phones. Another option offered by some providers is a cable or DSL modem or router with the ATA already incorporated. Again, this is not offered by all providers. Also, if you choose to go this route, you will need to make sure that the cable or DSL modem is compatible with your ISP’s service.
One other consideration is necessary when choosing an ATA. That is that all ATAs are not the same. They are not necessarily interchangeable between VoIP providers, as there may be differences in protocol, etc. So it is best to choose an available ATA from the VoIP service provider that you decide on.
As you can see, there are a number of options available to you when choosing an ATA for your VoIP service. By far the simplest solution is to use one of the standalone ATAs that connects directly to your high speed modem or router, as this type does not require any software or configuration – you simply plug it in and start saving money on your phone bill. But the other options do provide you with some flexibility when installing a VoIP solution.
A VoIP softphone is a piece of software that turns a PC into a phone that can be used to place calls over the Internet. In the early days, this was the only way to take advantage of VoIP. But recent advancements have made available inexpensive analog phone adapters (or ATAs) that do not require a PC. While these ATAs definitely make VoIP easier to install and use, their are still some advantages to using a softphone.
One of the biggest advantages of a softphone is that it allows you to access your VoIP service from any PC with high speed access. You can continue to save on your telephone service while you are traveling by using a softphone on your laptop. Some providers also allow you to store your phone numbers and other information online. This is information then becomes available to you wherever you log on to use the service.
Most available softphones share the same basic features. They are usually modeled after a regular phone with caller id display. Most also have several buttons for storing frequently called numbers. They will have a keypad, which can be accessed using the mouse or the number keys on the keyboard. In addition, most have some type of “off hook” button which accomplishes the same thing as picking up a regular telephone handset from the base.
While the basic features are about the same, one area that has a lot of variety is phone number storage. Some softphones include fairly sophisticated phone books that have categories for fax and work numbers, personal information and web addresses. Some of these phone books can be interfaced with existing address book software and allow export/import between applications. Also, as mentioned above, you may be able to keep this address file on your VoIP provider’s website, so that it can be accessed when you are traveling.
One other area that has wide differences is the “look and feel” of the phone interface as displayed on your screen. Some of these interfaces are very sleek and stylish, while some are rather basic. The manner in which the keys and controls are laid out should be considered as well, particularly if you plan to use your softphone often. Some of the available softphones are “skinnable” as well, allowing you to select from a number of available interfaces.
Most, but not all, VoIP providers offer a softphone that is optimized to work with their service. If you plan to use a softphone often, then you may want to download and check out the available softphones from the providers that you are considering. Also, keep in mind that while their are generic softphones available, the ones from your service provider have been optimized for their service. In addition, if you have any problems while using a softphone, the support offered by your provider will be better if you are using a softphone that they provide or recommend.
Another type of softphone that you may encounter is a telephone-type handset or headset that plugs into the USB port of your pc. These are not quite an ATA and not quite a softphone. They typically do not include a keypad or display, and still require software to be running on the PC. With this type of softphone, the software will control the connection to the Internet and the handling of the VoIP protocols.
Even though they are no longer required to take advantage of VoIP service, softphones can still be used to enhance your experience with this exciting new technology. Don’t forget to check out the softphone options provided to you when you are choosing your VoIP service provider.
Choosing Your VoIP Solution
VoIP is a relatively new, evolving technology. New service providers are rapidly entering the market, so deciding on which one to use is an important decision. While choosing a VoIP provider is similar to choosing a provider of related technologies, such as ISP or cell phone service, there are some things unique to VoIP that need to be considered. This article will discuss selecting a service provider in general as well as point out some things to look for that are specific to VoIP.
A good place to start when comparing VoIP service providers is the list of available features. You should be able to narrow the field quite a bit by deciding on the features you want and only comparing providers that offer those features. The comparison chart at this site can help you by giving a quick summary of the major features offered by the various providers.
This chart also gives an overview of the basic and enhanced service plans offered by the various providers. Once you have decided on the features that are important, you can look for providers that offer a plan with those features at a reasonable cost. If you need more information from a particular provider, there is a link in the chart that will take you to their website.
Quality of service and support are two areas that also need to be considered when selecting a provider of VoIP service. This may be somewhat difficult to judge, particularly since VoIP is a fairly recent technology – some of the companies are quite new. You can still get a good idea about support options and quality of service by simply spending a little time at the provider’s website. You might want to email their technical support with a question to see how long it takes them to respond. The answer that they give to your question might also give you some idea about the competence of their technical support staff. Also, be sure and read the reviews at this site.
Some other things to consider are sign-up and installation costs, length of contracts and cancellation fees. If you have experience in buying cell phone service, you will find that many of the plans offered by VoIP service providers are similar in this area. Not all VoIP providers have sign-up or cancellation fees, but this needs to be considered. If there is a cancellation fee involved, you might want to consider signing up with a provider on a month-to-month basis to begin with. Then if you are happy with the service and support that you receive, you can convert to a fixed-length contract in order to lower your monthly bill.
The type of equipment offered by providers is another item that needs to be considered. Not all VoIP providers offer the same range of equipment. If you plan to use your existing analog telephones with your service then you will need an ATA (or analog telephone adapter). Some providers also offer cable or DSL modems with an ATA incorporated into them. Another item to look for is the availability of a softphone – this will allow you to use your PC or laptop as a VoIP phone. Be sure and compare the cost of this equipment as well.
Availability of 911 and E911 service may also be a consideration for you. There is a wide difference among VoIP service providers in this area. Most have a basic 911 service included at no additional charge, but you may want to choose a provider that offers E911 (Enhanced 911) – this will make sure that your address is reported to the local 911 operator if you place an emergency call using VoIP.
Another consideration is whether or not a PC is required to use the VoIP service. While most VoIP providers offer ATAs, which eliminate the need for PCs or software, there are a few that do not. These providers either use softphones or USB handsets/headsets that require a PC for calling/number display and for handling the VoIP protocols.
Although there are quite a few things that need to be considered when choosing a VoIP service provider, the process does not have to be an unpleasant one. Using the resources available at this site, such as the comparison chart, reviews and other articles, will assist you a great deal in making your decision.
Voip Sound Quality
In the early days of VoIP, when most people had dialup access, about the only reason to use VoIP was that it allowed you to make free (or almost free) long distance calls over the Internet. While free long distance provided a good incentive, the call quality was substandard for most people. This is because dialup does not provide enough bandwidth to maintain a clear voice transmission over the Internet. Another limitation was the fact PC softphones were the only VoIP phones available, and both users had to be running the same softphone software in order to have a conversation.
The wide availability of broadband access has changed the VoIP scene remarkably. Call quality is no longer an issue due to the high bandwidth available with broadband access. As a matter of fact, in many cases call quality is better than that of analog telephone service because of the fact that VoIP is a digital technology. As long as there is sufficient bandwidth available, VoIP can deliver a better voice signal than a regular analog telephone service. This difference in quality is similar to the difference you notice when comparing the sound from a cassette tape with a CD. The cassette tape is analog and the CD has much better sound because it is digital.
There are, however a few factors that you need to be aware of that can affect call quality when using VoIP. Most of these factors center around the available bandwidth. Broadband Internet access has a minimum bandwidth of approximately 384kb (384 kbps, or 384 thousand bits per second). This can vary, depending on the type of access that you have. A typical VoIP call, at the highest quality setting, can require a bandwidth of up to 100kb. This is something that you should definitely check with the provider to determine, as this number varies considerably between providers. If you have high speed DSL access, the available bandwidth depends a good deal on the distance between your home and the nearest connection point. You may recall when signing up for DSL service that the provider told you they would be running a line test – this tested the bandwidth capability of your analog telephone line, which is used to carry the DSL signal. If this test had not passed, then you would not have been able to sign-up for DSL service. So if you have a working DSL connection, then you likely have sufficient bandwidth available for VoIP.
If your high speed access is provided by your cable company, the available bandwidth is not affected so much by distance as it is by the overall quality and condition of the cable lines to your home. These conditions can vary somewhat, particularly during rainy periods, but if you have this type of access the chances are excellent that you will always have sufficient bandwidth for making VoIP calls.
It is a good idea to check your actual bandwidth capability before you purchase a VoIP service. Most provider websites have a utility to do this. Typically these utilities will download a large file to your computer and measure the download time. The download time and size of the file is then used to calculate the actual bandwidth. Run this test at several different times during the day. You will likely find that the bandwidth is lowest during the day on weekdays – this is when the Internet and your access provider have the largest load. If you have sufficient bandwidth during these peak use times, then you will likely have it at other times as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this available bandwidth is the total that is available for both VoIP voice calls AND any other Internet access that may be happening at the same time. If you or someone else in your home is accessing the Internet, the available bandwidth will be reduced. Normal activities, such as surfing and checking email, will likely not cause any bandwidth problems. On the other hand, large file downloads may eat into the available bandwidth enough to affect call quality. So if you normally work with a lot of large files, or if several people may be accessing the Internet on your connection at the same time, then you should try to run the bandwidth tests while this access is happening. This will give you an idea of the worst case to expect, and whether or not call quality will be affected.
With the bandwidth available from today’s high speed Internet connections, call quality is seldom an issue with VoIP service. If you have broadband access, then you will likely experience better quality from VoIP than what you are used to.
VoIP during Power Outages
You may have wondered what happens to your VoIP telephone service if the power goes out. The simplest answer to this question is that it probably will not be available. However, this may not be a problem for you. This article will point out some of the things you need to be aware of in this area, and what you can look for in the future.
Most regular telephone service providers maintain large backup generators to ensure that telephone service is available during bad weather and power outages. This is because in the past we relied heavily on regular telephone service as a method of communication. Many people today rely on the Internet as heavily as they do on their telephone service. The Internet as a whole is very reliable – Can you remember the last time the Internet was “down”? Probably not, as their have only been a couple of instances where this happened on a large scale in the recent past. But the fact remains that, on a local level, the Internet is still susceptible to nature.
Because of this, it is likely that if there is a power outage in your local area your high speed Internet access will not be available. This has not been a severe problem for many businesses and consumers, because of the fact that if their power was out, their computers were not available to access the Internet anyway. But with the increased reliance on the Internet and computers, ISPs and cable companies are becoming more concerned about this issue. In the same manner, more and more businesses and consumers are choosing to have some type of backup capability for power to their computers.
The situation with VoIP access is very similar to this. Even if your Internet access is still active during a power outage, you will not have power available for your high speed modem or router or to your PC. The same is true for any ATAs (or analog telephone adapters) that you may be using for your VoIP service. So at this point in time, it is not a good idea to rely heavily on VoIP communications during power outages.
This should not keep you from benefiting from the advantages of VoIP, but you should take some precautions in this area. Most VoIP users handle this situation in one of two ways. The first would be for you to keep basic service from your local telephone company just to be used in case of emergencies. This would ensure that you have 911 service available during power outages. Another widely used method is to rely on cell phones as a backup in case of emergency. Most people already have some type of cellular service to begin with, so there is no extra cost associated with this method. You might want to keep an extra cell phone battery that is fully charged if you plan to rely on your cell phone for emergency service.
You can look for changes in this area in the near future. As mentioned above, many ISPs are implementing backup strategies to provide access during power outages. You may want to call your ISP and ask about this – it is possible that they have already addressed this in some way. If not, they can probably tell you what their future plans are. Once these plans have been implemented, you will still need to provide some type of local backup in order to ensure Internet and VoIP access during a power outage. The availability of low-cost UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) units will provide one method of doing this.
Backup capability should not stand in the way of your taking advantage of the enhanced features and cost savings benefits of VoIP telephone service. In the near future, this will likely no longer be an issue at all.
Do I Need a Computer to Use VoIP?
The simple answer to this is – No, you no longer need a computer to use VoIP. You may however, want to use one in order to take advantage of some of VoIP’s features. Read on for a discussion of currently available VoIP technology and what is required to use it.
In the early days of VoIP technology, a computer was required to place telephone calls over the Internet. VoIP technology relied on a device called a softphone to do this. This is a software application that turns your PC into an Internet phone. Another requirement was that both parties to the call had to be running the same softphone software. Broadband or high speed access was also not widely available. While this allowed low-cost long-distance calls to be made over the Internet, these restrictions kept most people from taking advantage of VoIP.
Quite recently, VoIP providers and hardware manufacturers began offering a number of different options for accessing VoIP. This includes analog telephone adapters (or ATAs), which allow you to use your regular analog telephones to access your VoIP service. These devices also connect to your high speed Internet modem or router. ATAs eliminate the need for a computer altogether. They contain all of the hardware and software necessary to access your VoIP services. Another fairly recent device is the USB softphone. This is typically in the form of a telephone-style handset or headset that plugs into the USB port on your PC. These devices do require software to be running on the PC to complete the connection to your VoIP services.
Another new device that is available from some providers is an analog telephone system that has the ATA incorporated into it. This type of device typically consists of a base station and ATA combined, and 1 or more cordless handsets. So you can provide VoIP service to your entire home with one of these devices and the proper number of cordless handsets. This device also connects directly to your high speed Internet modem or router.
One other available equipment option is a high speed DSL or cable modem with the ATA incorporated into it. These are currently available from some providers, but be sure to check that the modem is compatible with your ISP – not all cable or DSL modems are the same. With this type of device, the modem is connected to your high speed connection and you plug your analog telephone(s) into the modem.
Finally, the softphone is still an available option from most VoIP providers. You will certainly want to take advantage of a softphone if you plan to use your VoIP service when you travel. And you may find that you prefer using this softphone when you are not traveling. Many people who are online or working at their computer a lot like the efficiency of having everything, including their phone service running on their PC.
As you can see, VoIP has recently become a viable alternative to regular analog telephone service. If you do not use a PC often, but still want to take advantage of the cost savings of VoIP, then you probably will be happiest using an ATA to connect your existing analog telephones to your VoIP service. Your telephones will operate exactly the same as they always have using this method. However, if you are working at your PC or online often, you may find that one of the other options, such as a USB softphone suits your needs best.
One thing is certain, with its advanced features, options and cost savings, VoIP is a technology that deserves serious consideration. Now would be a good time to use the features available at this site to help you evaluate and choose a VoIP service provider
VoIP Voice Mail – How is it Different?
One of the many features that is greatly enhanced by VoIP service is voice mail. VoIP has the capability of providing web-based voice mail that can be accessed from any PC with Internet access. You are not required to be at home, or to dial a specific number to check your voicemail messages. They can be checked anytime that you are online. This feature is provided for free by most all of the VoIP service providers. It may be available to you from your regular telephone service provider, but there will be an additional monthly fee for this service.
This feature is possible, like many other VoIP features, because of the digital nature of VoIP. When a person places a call to your VoIP phone number, the sound of their voice is already being carried in digital form over the Internet. So it is a relatively easy and inexpensive matter for VoIP providers to save your messages in the form of a sound file. They can then make your messages accessible from the web via an application that is similar to a web-based email application. Some providers also offer an option to have your voicemail messages sent to your email address. They do this by attaching the sound file to an email that contains the caller information as well as the date and time of the call.
There are quite a few advantages to this type of voice mail. One is that it can be checked from anywhere, even internationally. So this type of service is especially valuable to business travelers. As long as you have Internet access available, you can check your voicemail messages regardless of where in the world you are located. And since you are likely checking your email messages anyway, this saves you time by combining what would normally be two separate tasks.
Another advantage to web-based voice mail is that all of your messages are saved. With traditional voicemail, whether provided by a home answering machine or your telephone service provider, there is a fixed limit to the number of messages that can be saved. With web-based VoIP voice mail, your messages are saved in the form of sound files, and can be manipulated and archived in the same way that you do with your email. This means you can save all of your recent messages in a convenient area, and then archive them as they get older. So you can save all of your voice mail messages indefinitely if desired.
One thing that bears mentioning is the fact that you do not need to have high speed internet access in order to listen to your voicemail messages. They can be downloaded over a dialup connection. Although this will require a little extra time, you still have the convenience of being able to browse through the messages and listen to only the ones you choose. If you plan to use a dialup connection to check your voicemail messages, then you will probably want to choose a provider with the option to send them to your voicemail. You can then combine the tasks of checking email and voicemail into one.
You can still listen to your messages the old way if you prefer, but once you use web-based voicemail you will probably prefer to use it. Being able to browse through your messages in list form is much more convenient than manipulating voice-mail with the touch-tone keypad. Web-based voice mail is a good example of a regular telephone service feature that is greatly enhanced by VoIP technology.
Is VoIP Reliable?
You may be wondering whether or not VoIP is a reliable technology, particularly since it is fairly new. A simple answer to this question is yes, VoIP is just as reliable as the Internet. But there are a few considerations with this issue, and this article will briefly discuss these.
The Internet, as a method of communications, is very reliable. There have only been a couple of instances in the recent past where the Internet was “down”. These instances both involved email “worms”, and actually only slowed response time to a crawl. The Internet was still “up”, it was just overwhelmed. The major reason for this reliability is that the Internet was specifically designed to provide a method of communications during large-scale natural or man-made disasters. The Internet has built-in redundancy, and its basic design is one that makes it almost impossible for it to be disabled. So as far as VoIP is concerned, there is little doubt as to the reliability of the medium being used to carry your calls. Most of the reliability issues of VoIP have to do with either an individual service provider or with the VoIP equipment that you may be using.
VoIP does require a service provider presence on the Internet in order to function. So the reliability of your service will depend on the ability of your service provider to maintain this presence. Most providers have considerable redundancy built into their servers and other hardware. This means that if they do experience a problem, you will likely never be aware of the fact. Their backup systems are designed to take over almost instantly in the event of a failure, so it is likely that the worst problem you would experience would be a slight interruption in service. This would be similar to a call “breaking up” or being “dropped” by a cell phone, but is not nearly as likely to happen with VoIP as it is with cell phone service.
Problems with your VoIP equipment, such as ATAs (or analog telephone adapters) or USB softphones could cause problems with your VoIP service. While today’s electronics are extremely reliable, if you intend to rely heavily on your VoIP service then it is a good idea to have replacement hardware available. If your system is dependent on one ATA or you have a high speed modem that incorporates an ATA, then it would be a good idea to have a backup unit available. This holds true for your USB softphone as well. If your service provider offers a software softphone, then you could consider this as a means of backup as well.
Another consideration that needs to be made is that VoIP service will likely not be available to you during a local power outage. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, it is likely that your high speed Internet connection will be down if the power outage is widespread. Second, if you do not have power at your home, your local VoIP hardware (ATAs, phones or modems incorporating ATAs), as well as the hardware associated with your high speed access (modem or router) will not have power. If you use a softphone, your PC will be down as well. VoIP users solve usually solve this problem by maintaining basic service on their regular telephone or by relying on cell phones for emergency communications.
Another thing to keep in mind is that VoIP is a relatively new technology. Given the large number of advantages that VoIP offers, the demand for its services is growing rapidly. This means that VoIP providers, as well as providers of broadband access, are hard at work on solutions to the problem of service availability during power outages.
As you can see, VoIP is an inherently reliable technology. Although, at this point in time, you should probably not rely on VoIP as your sole means of voice communications, there is no need for this to stand in the way of your taking advantage of the many enhanced features and cost savings that it offers
With the recent increased usage of VoIP services, hardware manufacturers have begun to incorporate VoIP capabilities into other Internet hardware devices. A VoIP router is an example of such a device. This article will discuss some of the features and capabilities of typically available VoIP routers.
A VoIP router typically combines the functions of a high-speed Internet router and an ATA (or Analog Telephone Adapter). ATAs have been available as separate devices for quite some time. Routers with the ATA incorporated into them are a more recent innovation. If you have a home network that shares access to your high-speed Internet connection, then you probably already have a cable or DSL router. A VoIP router will have similar features to this router, with the addition of the ATA port for your telephone. There are currently two types of routers available.
The first is one that has been especially configured to operate with a particular VoIP service. If you purchase a VoIP router from your VoIP provider, then it will be this type. Also, many or the VoIP routers that you will see for sale on the Internet or in computer stores are of this type – they will typically be bundled with software and possibly a trial period for a particular VoIP provider. So be careful when buying a router of this type – make certain that it is designed specifically for use with your provider.
The second type of VoIP router is one that is fairly generic and can be configured (via your web browser) to work with most VoIP service providers. This type allows you some flexibility in changing VoIP providers without the need to change your hardware. You should still check with your VoIP service provider to make sure that they can help if you have any problems configuring the router to work with their service.
A VoIP router will typically have a WAN port that connects to your high-speed cable or DSL modem, 1 or 2 ATA ports for analog telephones and 2 to 4 LAN ports for connecting your PC network. Connecting one is a relatively simple matter. The WAN port connects using a RJ45 cable to your high-speed modem. You then plug your analog telephone(s) into the ATA port(s). Finally, you can network your home PCs using RJ45 cables from the LAN ports to the PCs. Your analog telephones will now function as VoIP phones, and your PCs will share access to the Internet. You will also have the ability to use softphones on your PCs to place VoIP calls.
If you have purchased a generic VoIP router, then you will need to configure it to work with your VoIP service provider. This is usually done by going to a particular IP address in your web browser. This will display a web page, which actually resides in the VoIP router, that allows you to make configuration changes. As mentioned previously, you may need some assistance from your VoIP service provider during configuration. If you have purchased one of the pre-configured VoIP routers, then you should be able to make calls as soon as you complete the connections.
VoIP routers of both types will typically include a firewall as well. This can be configured to give you various degrees of security and privacy while on the Internet. Configuration is similar to the VoIP configuration, using a web browser and dedicated IP address. You may need to contact your ISP as well as your VoIP provider for assistance in configuring a firewall.
A VoIP router can be used to save space, cable connections and money. You can eliminate individual ATAs by using a VoIP router. In addition, there are fewer cable connections to be made. And you will likely find that the VoIP router costs less than the combined cost of a cable or DSL router and individual ATAs.
VoIP and Government Regulations
One of the advantages that VoIP currently has over traditional phone service is in the area of government regulation. This article will discuss why this is true as well as how this is likely to change in the future.
The traditional telephone companies are subject to certain regulations, fees and tariffs that do not apply to any other business. This includes both landline and cellular service. You are no doubt painfully aware of these fees and tariffs, which can sometimes double the basic cost of telephone service. This additional regulation applies to companies that are classified by the FCC as offering “communications” services.
Currently VoIP providers are classified (in rulings by the FCC and the courts) as providers of “information” services. This means that they are not subject to these additional regulations, tariffs and fees. These regulations require more overhead for the “communications” companies. In addition, the extra fees and tariffs are added to the cost of their services. So, at present, VoIP telephone service can provide a significant cost savings, both in basic rates and in the absence of these additional fees.
The key to maintaining the cost savings of decreased regulation is for VoIP providers to keep their classification as “information” providers, rather than as “communications” providers. This classification is controlled by FCC and court rulings, but Congress is responsible for the all of the underlying laws on which rulings are based. Whenever the FCC makes a ruling in this area, it can be contested by either party in the courts. The court rulings provide the final word on the legality of these rulings by the FCC. As mentioned previously, recent court rulings have gone in favor of VoIP service providers by classifying them as information providers.
This likely to change in the future. One reason for this is that many traditional phone carriers have entered the VoIP market, blurring the lines between the two classifications. Another is the potential for increased government revenue that would come from classifying VoIP as a communications service. The government is essentially losing revenue as consumers and businesses move from traditional to VoIP service in increasing numbers. It is not likely that this additional revenue source will remain untapped for long.
Congress will likely have the most influence over this situation in the future. They are responsible for passing the laws governing regulation, which are then interpreted by the FCC and the courts. So any significant changes will probably be due to changes in these laws. If you are currently using VoIP, or plan to begin soon, then contact your local Congressman would probably be the most effective way to have a say in what happens in the future.
In addition, traditional phone companies have been subjected to increased state and local regulation. While this is mainly due to their classification by the federal government as communications providers, there are state and local laws that affect this regulation. Since VoIP is relatively new, these regulations have not been applied at the state and local level. So keeping abreast of proposed changes by state and local utilities commissions would also be a good idea if you have an interest in keeping regulation of VoIP to a minimum.
The fact remains that VoIP service currently has a cost advantage over traditional phone service due to its classification as an information service. Also, because of much lower overhead costs, VoIP is likely to maintain this advantage even with increased regulation. So now would be a good time to begin choosing a VoIP provider. You can use some of the other tools at this site, such as the VoIP Comparison Chart, to help you in choosing a provider.
Small Business VoIP
VoIP is a technology that can be used to significantly reduce communications costs for a small business. This article will explore some of the ways that small businesses can save money by using VoIP phone service.
Most VoIP service providers offer some type of business plan. The primary advantage of these plans is increased features at a better overall rate. The largest area of savings for businesses will be much lower long distance costs. Most providers offer some type of unlimited business plan, which allows unlimited long distance calls to the US and Canada for a set monthly fee. These unlimited long distance plans are unmatched in pricing when compared to any other available type of telephone service. You can use the VoIP Comparison Chart to compare prices for some of the more popular business plans offered by providers.
Most small businesses use faxes in some manner, so VoIP providers have addressed this need by including a fax line with most business plans. You can use your existing fax machine over VoIP by simply plugging it into an ATA device that is connected to your high speed Internet connection. You can then send faxes in the same way that you would with a regular telephone line. Use the VoIP Comparison Chart to compare this feature among providers.
Another cost saving feature of VoIP is add a line capability. Additional phone numbers, which are equivalent to additional phone lines in the traditional telephone world, can be added for a very low cost. The price savings is possible because there is no additional wiring associated with an additional line. It is carried over the same high-speed Internet connection as your primary line. This provides a cost-effective method of providing multiple lines for your small business.
Virtual phone numbers provide another potential cost saving for VoIP business users. Most VoIP providers offer the ability to assign any available area code to a VoIP number, regardless of your physical location. This feature can be used to save long distance costs to a particular area where you do a significant amount of business. You can save money with a virtual phone number by choosing an area code in an area that is normally long distance for you. All calls to and from this area code will now be treated as local calls – there will be no long distance charges involved.
This is different from unlimited long distance because the area code will be local to that area as well. Your customers will be able place a local call when contacting you. In addition, they will be able to recognize the number as being a local call because of the area code. This essentially allows you to maintain a “presence” in another city without having a physical location in that city.
If your business has multiple locations, in the same city or in another, then VoIP can be used to connect the telephone systems at these locations to each other into one integrated system. Some VoIP providers offer a type of virtual PBX service which allows you to connect multiple locations over your existing data network or over the Internet. This means that all of your in-house communications between locations can be accomplished without long distance charges and without making use of a traditional telephone service provider. Employees at one location can dial another location as a simple extension number, without long distance charges. This allows unprecedented connectivity to small businesses at an affordable cost.
As you can see, VoIP offers many ways for small businesses to save money and increase service. VoIP can be used as an enhancement to your traditional phone service, and in some cases may be used to replace traditional business phone service altogether. You can use some of the other tools at this site, such as the VoIP Comparison Chart and the VoIP Tutorials to help you in choosing a provider.
Sending a Fax with VoIP
If you use a fax machine often, you may be wondering about faxing with VoIP. Most providers offer some type of fax support, and many offer a dedicated fax line either as part of a business plan or as an option. This article will briefly discuss some of the available faxing options, as well as some things to be aware of when choosing a provider.
You can use the VoIP Comparison Chart for a quick overview of providers that support faxing over VoIP. Most providers that support faxing offer a dedicated fax line as an option. Also, since business users usually require a fax, many providers include a free fax line in their business plans. The monthly fee for a fax line usually includes a limited number of outgoing fax minutes, with unlimited incoming minutes. Outgoing fax minutes that exceed the monthly limit are billed at a low per-minute rate.
There are a few things to look for when choosing a provider if faxing is important to you. One of these is the faxing protocols supported by the provider. Faxes require a more reliable connection than voice calls, and faxing protocols have been designed to provide this reliability over VoIP. Two protocols that are designed for faxing with VoIP are g.711 and T.38. Sending and receiving faxes will be more reliable if the provider supports one of these protocols. If a provider supports faxing, they should be able to detect a fax signal and automatically switch to one of these protocols until transmission is complete.
Another consideration with faxing over VoIP is the supported baud rate. Although this should not cause any problems, you will need to know the maximum baud rate that is supported so that you can set this in your fax machine or fax software. While some fax machines and software are able to transmit at up to 14,400 baud, most VoIP providers limit support to a maximum rate of 9600 baud.
As far as initial setup is concerned, faxing with VoIP is quite simple. All that needs to be done is to plug your fax machine (or computer modem if you are using fax software) into an ATA. Once this is done, you send and receive faxes in the same way that you would with a normal telephone line. The only change that you might need to make is to limit the baud rate on your fax machine or faxing software to 9600 baud as mentioned above.
Another consideration is that most VoIP providers do not allow “fax-blasting” (sending the same fax repeatedly to different numbers). If providers detect this sort of activity on your fax line, they may limit or discontinue use. So if advertising via fax is important to you, you may want to consider one of the online companies that provide this service at a reasonable cost.
Also, keep in mind that fax support among VoIP providers is ongoing and increasing. This means that if you are experiencing any problems with faxing, you may need to upgrade the firmware in your ATA to incorporate changes made by your provider. This should not be a problem, as it involves a simple software download directly to the ATA. And do not forget that a fax line, just like an additional voice line, will consume available bandwidth. About 100k of bandwidth is required for sending or receiving a fax over VoIP.
If faxing is important to you, it is likely that you will be able to save money in this area by using VoIP. This is particularly true with long distance faxes – you can achieve the same type of savings with faxes as you can with your long distance voice calls. You can use some of the other tools at this site, such as the VoIP Comparison Chart, to help you choose a VoIP provider today.
VoIP headsets can be used to enhance your VoIP experience with greater ease of use and increased productivity. While it is possible to use a computer microphone and speakers or computer headset and a computer softphone with VoIP, there are some more specialized devices available that are designed specifically to work with VoIP. This article will discuss the different types of USB headset devices available and features to look for when choosing the best device for you.
For the purposes of this article, a VoIP headset is one that is optimized for telephone use, plugs into the USB port of your PC and provides VoIP capability in conjunction with a softphone running on the PC. This headset differs from a normal one in that it incorporates the circuitry for converting voice signals to and from digital form, instead of using the PC sound card to accomplish this.
While it is possible to use a regular computer microphone and speakers or a regular computer headset with VoIP, they are not optimized for this purpose. The microphone and speakers are treated independently by the computer sound card, and feedback and background noise can occur. For this reason, it is probably best to use one of the devices that has been optimized for telephone use. These devices incorporate circuitry which filters background noise and reduces feedback between the microphone and speakers.
Due to their small size and weight, these headsets do not include the keypad that is necessary for placing calls. They require the use of a softphone to allow for dialing and to handle the VoIP protocol necessary for sending voice signals over the Internet. However, most do include some controls to increase ease of use.
VoIP headsets usually incorporate a volume control. This volume control is digital, which means that, over time, you will not experience the “scratchy” sound associated with analog volume controls. The volume control is usually incorporated into the cord going from headset to computer.
Another feature to look for is a switch of some type that allows you to answer calls and to hang up when they are completed. This can help to free you from the computer keyboard or mouse when receiving calls. You will still need to dial calls using the keyboard or mouse and on-screen keypad. Also, some headsets have an indicator light that blinks to signal an incoming call or lights steadily to indicate that the phone is “off hook”.
VoIP headsets are available as either binaural or monaural. Binaural simply means two speakers, one over each ear. Similarly, a monaural headset has only one speaker that fits over one ear. This difference is a personal one for most people, but should still be considered. If you need to be aware of background conversations while using the phone, a monaural headset is probably best. On the other hand, if you want to filter out as much background conversation or noise as possible, then a binaural headset would be more effective for this.
One other feature to look for is a mute button, which allows you to disable the microphone. With the microphone muted, you can carry on a conversation with other people in your office without the caller being able to hear that conversation. Look for some type of indicator that tells you when the phone is muted – this might save you some embarrassment.
VoIP headsets, just as regular telephone headsets, are also available in wireless form. This eliminates the need for a cord running from the headset to the PC. The headset will incorporate a wireless transmitter/receiver unit, which usually communicates with a USB Bluetooth dongle plugged into the PC. These units are a good deal more expensive, but the convenience of being ”cord-free” may be well worth the price.
If you are currently using VoIP, or thinking about giving this new technology a try, consider using a VoIP headset to enhance your convenience and productivity. You might also experience some cost savings with these devices, as they can replace both an ATA and an analog telephone device.