Since it first appeared in the mid 1990s, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has been used by growing numbers of people to avoid pricey phone calls. It does this by sending calls over the internet rather than traditional phone networks.
Making use of the internet in this way means the cost of calls can be significantly below that charged by phone companies. In some cases, calls can even be free.
VoIP works in a relatively simple way. Each time you make a phone call your voice is converted into a stream of data. Then, rather than being sent over the phone network, this data stream travels over your broadband internet connection.
If the person you're calling is also using a VoIP service, your call will remain on the internet for its entire journey. However, if you're dialing a conventional phone, the call will be carried as far as possible over the internet before being handed back to the relevant phone network.
The most common way to use VoIP is through VoIP softphone services and applications.
Skype is the most popular of all softphones, with hundreds of millions of subscribers worldwide. The Skype community is well developed on the web. Skype is also a VoIP service provider. PC to PC calls are free while PC to Phone calls are paid. Skype is available for PC's and smartphones. Google Voice, Localphone and Nimbuzz also offers PC to Phone calls.
If you want to carry out ONLY a PC to PC call you can also use Viber, Tango, Fring and ooVoo.
Another way of using VoIP services is as a replacement (or in addition) for an existing home phone line. Rather than forking out for expensive international calls, VoIP users can get lower rates to worldwide destination. Plans vary widely in cost and inclusions so it's worth shopping around.
The easiest way to establish a home VoIP connection involves acquiring some hardware. There are a range of choices, depending on the type of equipment you already have and the way in which you want to make and receive calls. There are Analog Telephone Adapters (ATAs), dedicated VoIP phone handsets, and broadband modems that have VoIP capabilities built in.
ATAs let you use an existing phone handset to make VoIP calls. They are a small box that connects to your broadband modem/router with another socket into which an existing phone handset is plugged. ATAs work with both wired and wireless phones and are an easy way to incorporate VoIP calling into a household at minimal cost.
Such service is given by Vonage, magicJack Plus, ooma and more.
Advantages and disadvantages VoIP
As well as cutting costs while at home in the US, using VoIP cuts costs if you're travelling abroad and need to call home. DON'T use 3G data while abroad though, as this will cost BIG. If you have free or cheap web access, you can call at no or low cost (depending on provider), via a PC, your smartphone or a tablet. This saves massively on hotel phone charges, and often beats overseas phone cards.
There are a few drawbacks to VoIP though, so it's probably not wise to ditch your landline or mobile completely.
- VoIP calls require an internet connection. If your power goes or your broadband breaks, you won't be able to call
- Call quality depends on your broadband connection, and that of the person you're calling. Unstable broadband could mean poor call quality
- Most VoIP providers don't let you call emergency numbers - you would have to dial 911 from your mobile or a landline
- The most prominent security issues over VoIP are identity and service theft, viruses and malware, denial of service, spamming, call tampering and phishing attacks.