If you look out the window right now, odds are you will see someone talk on their cell phone. A very good guess is that they are using their voice plan with a service provider. If they are talking on their phone and using it simultaneously, your best guess is that they use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
VoIP embodies communications convergence, the ability to simultaneously use the same network for voice, data, or video communication, which is not possible on traditional mobile carriers. Generally, conventional mobile carriers cannot facilitate a telephone call and internet data transfer at the same time without the customer incurring excessive charges. This article discusses the various types of VoIP and what an intending user will need to set up one.
The five types of VoIP include:
With a traditional mobile carrier, you can only make phone calls from your cell phone. Sure enough, almost everyone has a cell phone. Likewise, many people now have a personal computer or tablet and a personal digital assistant (PDA) for people who fancy it. VoIP lets you set up and make cheaper borderless phone calls using these devices and other specialized hardware. The best part is that you do not even need a traditional phone number, and you can make calls to conventional numbers. There are other remarkable things about VoIP, but this article focuses on the types of VoIP available to individuals and businesses.
There are five types of VoIP in use today. Each type differs in how the user makes phone calls, but the underlying principle remains the same. While some VoIP setups are rigid and require specific equipment, others are more flexible. If you are a business or individual consumer, read through each type of VoIP to identify the ones that meet your communication needs.
This type of VoIP is the earliest type of VoIP and remains popular to this day. PC-2-PC VoIP lets two or more persons make cheap voice calls over the internet using only their PC, basic hardware, and software.
Every internet-enabled device has an IP address, and this is what PC-to-PC VoIP leverages to make voice calls. The user will need to install VoIP software for this purpose. The headphones facilitate talking, but it is unnecessary if your computer has a functional microphone and speaker.
The software essentially turns your computer into a phone. It lets you call the other user if they know their IP address or username. Once you start a VoIP call on your end, the receiver gets an alert and may choose to accept or decline the call. If they accept the call, the voice conversation happens back and forth securely over the internet. At the same time, you can download, share, stream, and access photos, videos, documents, and other data types over the same internet connection and computer. Pretty nifty, right? Not quite. There are a few downsides to using PC-to-PC VoIP, including:
Unlike PC-to-PC VoIP, which is limited to computers only, Softphones have more range. The underlying principle is still the same, but this time the user only needs software. The software works on any internet-enabled device and mimics the functionality of a regular desk phone on your device screen. So, desktop, personal computer, or smartphone, it doesn’t matter. What you need is the software.
Of these, only the device, internet connection, service provider, and proprietary software are necessary. Your PC or smartphone already comes with a microphone and speaker, so you don’t need to go looking for a headphone. However, getting one will improve your experience.
The software from the VoIP provider sets up and controls the call. Most service providers charge a monthly service fee of about $10/month. Still, you will agree this is much cheaper than your average phone bill from a traditional carrier if you compare the rate with personal cellphone plans. The best feature of softphone VoIP is that the call recipient does not need to install the software. You can make regular calls to traditional phone numbers by buying prepaid minutes from your VoIP service provider. You can also do other standard phone call stuff like transfer calls, hold, have conference calls, voicemail, and have multiple lines.
Furthermore, unlike PC-2-PC VoIP, you don’t need to know the recipient’s internet protocol (IP) address. Your softphone can access the contact directory on your device. It is also flexible. You can run the same software on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, depending on what is convenient for you at the time. For instance, you can make and take morning calls on your computer and set up the software to transfer calls to your smartphone when you go for an evening jog or travel out of town. This type of VoIP is perfect for individuals and small businesses that cannot afford IP Phones.
Short for Internet Protocol phones, this type of VoIP uses hardware instead of software, as in PC-to-PC VoIP and Softphones. There are some differences, but the underlying principle remains the same. The IP phone is already preloaded with the software you need to make voice calls over the internet. Furthermore, the caller can only make VoIP calls using the internet protocol address of the recipient.
What you need depends on the model of the IP phone you intend to use.
You will notice the IP phone ditches the headphones required in the former types of VoIP. But the other thing to point out is that you only need two pieces of equipment from the list above – a router or computer. Specific IP phone models connect to a dedicated router via a cord or wireless connection. This model will have a dial pad that you use to make a regular phone call. Because the IP phone already has the software installed on the hardware, you only need to dial the IP address of the recipient, and you are ready to go.
On the other hand, some models connect to your personal computer through the USB port instead of a router. The handset may or may not have a dial pad. If the handset does not have a dial pad, you will need to download VoIP software on the computer.
The first downside of using IP phones is that they are more expensive than regular phones, making them impractical for individuals and small businesses who can use the cheaper Softphones. However, the high cost is not a problem for large companies who want the premium benefit of IP phones. For one, the call quality is much better than PC-to-PC VoIP or softphones because IP phones do not experience call interference.
Generally, businesses use IP phones for clear communication between branches in different states. It also works for calls between offices within a large business branch. For a regular user, the cost of these devices is already a turnoff talk less of having to dial a twelve-digit IP address every time you want to make a phone call.
This phone-to-phone VoIP is the most reliable of all VoIP systems. It is comparatively expensive than softphones because you need dedicated hardware, but it is easy to set up.
The analog telephone adapter (ATA) is basically a tiny device with programmable phone numbers with which a user makes VoIP calls. The user connects the adapter to the router via an ethernet cable. Then, they connect the ATA to the phone using an RJ-11 (phone line cable) jack. Once setup is complete, the user can make phone calls, even to traditional phone numbers. They can also receive regular traditional phone calls from traditional phone numbers.
Basically, the ATA works as a signal converter. It converts your analog audio signal (from the phone) to a digital audio signal. Then it breaks this digital signal into small packets and sends them over the internet to the end recipient. The packets also contain instructions on how the recipient’s phone reassembles the voice signal without losing data or order. Read What is VoIP for more information on how this works exactly.
ATA VoIP is common among individuals and businesses who wish to save costs on traditional voice calls. The ATA VoIP can reduce your phone bill by as much as 70%. To put it into perspective, if you spend $100 on phone bills every month, getting the ATA VoIP can reduce your cost to $30 per month if your call pattern does not change. Some plans cost as low as $10 per month. Best of all, you also enjoy all the standard features of a traditional phone call for the same low cost. Some of these include call switching, call waiting, and call forwarding.
However, this low cost and features also make VoIP a favorite of scammers who exploit this system to spoof their numbers and make scam calls – remember that the phone numbers on the adapter are programmable. Congress recently passed the TRACED bill to curtail scam calls done through caller ID spoofing. However, it will be a while before it significantly changes how scammers use VoIP to scam unsuspecting recipients.
Generally, a VoIP user will need a service provider and purchase a service package. The major carriers in the US provide this service. There are also independent service providers that let interested persons make VoIP calls for lower costs.
Vo-WiFi is short for Voice over Wireless Fidelity. Also known as wireless VoIP, this hybrid VoIP technology combines traditional cellular calls with VoIP calling – all on a single phone. The user will need to connect to a dedicated wireless hotspot to make a VoIP call. And when they go out of range, the phone switches to cellular calls.
Although the concept is excellent, Vo-WiFi faces a significant challenge absent in the other types of VoIP. First, users have trouble switching seamlessly from VoIP to cellular calls. The user will need a phone specially designed to handle this hybrid call and switch effectively to solve this problem. As you can imagine, such a phone is expensive.
Vo-WiFi is suitable for call center operators and individuals. For individuals, the major upside is that they experience more coverage and can make calls when the mobile signal is weak, e.g., in a remote location or where thick objects block radio signals. Vo-WiFi lets businesses, especially call centers, leverage IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) services to reduce cost and gain a competitive advantage.
It depends on your needs. ATA VoIP is the most common type of VoIP in the United States because of its range, flexibility, and low cost. Softphones make it easy to make calls without paying a lot of extra money or carrying a VoIP adapter around with you. The hybrid VoIP technology, Vo-WiFi, is ambitious but still needs development. You have no real use for the PC-to-PC VoIP if you intend to make VoIP calls to traditional phone numbers. It is cheap and practically free, but the limitations are too many.