What is VoIP?

A headset lying next to a laptop

VoIP, short for Voice over Internet Protocol, is a commonly-used method for converting analog audio signals into digital data. Basically, it allows users to make phone calls via the internet instead of having to install a phone line, bypassing phone companies and their often exorbitant charges.

Many experts believe that VoIP will wind up completely replacing traditional phone systems. In fact, this eventuality is already coming to fruition in the business world, where many companies have already made the switch. This article will offer business owners and consumers who have yet to make the switch a brief introduction to the different kinds of VoIP service, how they work, and the pros and cons of using the internet to make phone calls.

Types of VoIP

There are three main types of VoIP service found in today’s office environments. ATA, short for analog telephone adaptor, is the most common type of VoIP service thanks primarily to its simplicity. It allows standard phones to be used for online communication by converting analog signals into digital data that can be transmitted via the internet.

IP phones are similar in appearance to normal phones but they connect directly to routers. These specialized devices rely on RJ-45 Ethernet connectors and internal hardware and software to handle calls. Wi-Fi phones function similarly but allow users to place phone calls from any Wi-Fi hotspot.

Finally, computer-to-computer VoIP services basically allow users to turn their computers into phones. All that’s required is a microphone, speakers, a sound card, and an internet connection. This type of VoIP system is very straightforward and allows even long-distance calls to be made for free, provided users pay their monthly ISP fees.

How it Works

A gamer with a headsetVoIP relies on a process known as packet-switching. This process takes advantage of the fact that only half of a traditional circuit-switching connection is actually used at any given time to boost efficiency. Instead of maintaining a constant connection, as is the case with traditional phones, VoIP networks only send or retrieve data as needed.

The term “packet-switching” is derived from the fact that data is sent in small chunks. Each packet contains a payload, which in this case would be a snippet of voice data, and each one is sent along a different path via different routers. Once these packets can deliver their payloads to the destination computer, the data is reassembled into its original state.

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Advantages of VoIP

The most frequently cited advantage of switching to a VoIP service provider is that it generally costs much less than maintaining a traditional phone system. Most modern businesses and residential households already have internet connections so there’s really no need for paying an additional phone bill, as well. Although making calls to landlines using VoIP services may still incur a small cost, it will be much lower than that of using a traditional phone.

A second serious advantage of VoIP is its versatility. It doesn’t matter whether callers are ringing up their friends down the street or their business associates half-way across the world. VoIP works the same way in both of these examples and if both parties are using VoIP services, the cost will be the same.

Disadvantages of VoIP

There are only a few disadvantages of VoIP and most of them can be accommodated easily by modern businesses. The first is that calls can wind up lagging or being dropped if the internet connection does not offer sufficient bandwidth to accommodate the voice data packets. This is only rarely an issue, though, since most companies and consumers alike have high-speed internet in today’s day and age.

The second issue is that VoIP phone systems rely on an internet connection and a power supply. If either of these goes out, they will be inaccessible. While it’s possible to maintain a backup generator to avoid power outages, there is little that can be done about internet connectivity issues on service providers’ ends beyond switching to more reliable internet services.

Available Features

A headset lying next to a laptopVoIP companies typically provide a number of free features that would cost extra if ordered from a normal phone company. These typically include caller ID, call waiting, transfers, repeat dials, return calls, and three-way calling.

Some carriers also offer advanced features that allow users to better manage their call experiences. These may include call forwarding, automated busy signals, sending calls directly to voice mail, and playing pre-recorded “not-in-service” messages upon request.

The Bottom Line

There are already plenty of popular services out there that use VoIP, including Skype and Teamspeak. They may not know it, but most modern consumers have already at least dipped their toes in the water when it comes to online calling. Given how much faster today’s iteration of the internet is than its predecessors and how much more reliable VoIP services have become, it just makes sense to consider making the switch and dropping that unnecessary landline phone bill today.