Internet Phone and VoIP – What Is That?

In terms of the age of technology, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around since the early 1970s with the first transmission taking place in 1973 . But it wasn’t for more than 20 years after that, in 1995, that the first Internet Phone software actually made it the consumer market. And while Vonage might be the best known of the providers who now specialize in VoIP services, there are actually many more providers with offerings for personal and business phone calls made over the Internet, including Verizon and Microsoft with its Skype software. Choosing a provider, or even choosing the make the switch at all, can be a tough decision. The choice, however, can be made a little easier with a little understanding of the technology.

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What is VoIP?

In plain terms, VoIP allows an individual to make phone calls from a telephone over an Internet connection. That is, rather than using a traditional phone line, the phone uses the same broadband connection as the Internet. Like a traditional phone, VoIP uses phone numbers, phone number area codes, and a dial tone. The real technological difference is that rather than sending an analog message over a copper wire, VoIP turns the user’s voice into a data packet that is sent over the Internet connection. These data packets are then transferred to the public telephone network and sent to the phone at the end of the connection, whether that phone is a traditional phone or another Internet-connected phone.

 

Does the Phone Call Quality Suffer?

In the early days of VoIP service, phone call quality was an issue. Before broadband Internet became the standard, there was limited bandwidth available on Internet connections. Just as streaming media, such as videos, can get choppy or even stall on low-speed or weak Internet connections, the data packets used by VoIP also suffered in the beginning. In some locations where high-speed Internet isn’t available, this can still be an issue. For most locations, however, calling over the Internet is virtually unnoticeable to most people.

 

The Benefits of an Internet Phone

The first patent for a landline phone was granted to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. In 1881, Bell patented the use of twisted copper wires for the telephone. Since that time, copper twisted pairs have been the primary means of transmission for landline phones. Fiber optic cables have also been laid down now, improving landline phone capabilities, but the primary technology for landline phones is over 100 years old and with almost no prospect of being updated as doing so is prohibitively expensive for phone companies. As a result of this outdated technology, a traditional landline phone is limited in the features it can offer. These include:

  • Caller ID
  • Call Forwarding
  • Call Waiting
  • Three-way or Conference Calling
  • Voicemail

 

In comparison, making calls using an Internet telephone offers all of the above benefits as well as the following, which are only available through VoIP:

  • Virtual Receptionist
  • Voicemail-to-email
  • Voicemail-to-text
  • Multiple calls at the same time over one connection
  • Scalability – Adding more phones requires only buying a single piece of equipment easily connected rather than paying a company to install an additional line
  • Secure Calling – Calls are digitized, and sometimes encrypted, so only the two intended recipients can hear the conversation
  • Integration with a mobile phone, allowing mobile users to integrate their cell phone with an additional number for making and receiving calls even while away from a computer
  • Computer integration – Any Internet-connected computer with a speaker and microphone can be used to make and receive calls
  • Location-independence – VoIP allows a user to keep the same number even if the person or business moves
  • Video conference
  • Group paging
  • Cost – Both maintenance of the system and using the system, particularly with long distance and international calls, is much lower than with a traditional landline. For some, the cost savings can be as much as 80% on a monthly phone bill.

 

The Disadvantages

Every technology has its drawbacks, and an Internet Phone is no different. Some of the disadvantages that need to be thoroughly considered are:

  • Reliability – Traditional phones not only transmit calls over the copper or fiber optic wiring, they get power from it as well. This power supply is provided by the phone company and works even if there is a power outage. Phones connected via the Internet are inoperable when the power is out.
  • Location-based Services – If there is an emergency call placed on a landline, the emergency personnel are notified at the time of connection where the call is coming from. VoIP phones must have a location registered before they can be used for emergency location services. And if the phone is moved, the location has to be updated as well.
  • Weather – The lines used to carry signals for landline phones are buried in the ground and are mostly immune to weather. Phones using Internet connections can be interrupted partially or even completely by bad weather.
  • Call Quality – Even though broadband allows VoIP calls to be clearer than they originally were, landline phones still have the edge in call quality.
    Availability – High-speed Internet isn’t everywhere, and that means that the ability to use VoIP isn’t either.

 

VoIP Providers

VoIP may be the biggest thing to happen to telephones since their invention more than 100 years ago, with approximately 1 billion users worldwide. Making the switch from a landline phone to an Internet-connected phone may be the right choice, particularly if cost is a consideration and the Internet connectivity is there.

Note that some VoIP providers offer their packages for home or business only, and some offer for both. In addition, some providers are only working in one area while others work in another. Before making the decision to switch to VoIP, it’s best to do a review of the providers, their offerings, and the cost for the features you want. It’s also helpful to do some research on the company as well. In the end, not everyone needs or wants to use the Internet for their phone, but for those that do, there are indeed benefits to be had.

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