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What Is VoIP?

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a communication technology that allows anyone to make phone calls over broadband internet connection. Unlike landline and mobile phone calls, VoIP calls do not rely on analog phone lines, copper wires, and cellular towers. VoIP converts the caller’s voice into digital signals transmitted over the internet. Therefore, any internet-capable voice-enabled device can place and receive VoIP calls.

Internet calls are also VoIP calls. While there are specialized VoIP phones, it is also possible to place VoIP calls using mobile phones, computers, and landlines equipped with special adapters. This flexibility is one of the advantages of VoIP over traditional telephony services. Furthermore, VoIP phones enjoy features from other phone technologies including voicemail and call forwarding. In addition to these, it also offers unique features such as call recording, automated attendant, and custom caller ID. Besides voice calls, VoIP is also capable of instant messaging, video calls, and teleconferencing.

VoIP is a rapidly growing communications technology. Between 2010 and 2018, 35 million VoIP lines were added by businesses adopting this technology. In the same period, residential VoIP lines grew from 28 million to 77 million. Since then, VoIP growth has accelerated. Its fast adoption is further spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on gathering. Many organizations have fully embraced teleconferencing solutions to keep their workers connected to one another.

What Is the Difference Between VoIP and Internet Calls

While the internet is the most common medium for VoIP calls, the technology allows communication via any computer network that uses packet-switched protocols. This means that organizations can deploy VoIP solutions over local area networks (LANs) including their own intranets. However, the internet is the most popular computer network that uses packet-switched protocols and it is also the most widespread. Calls made over the internet are internet calls and VoIP calls. Calls made over other types of computer networks are only VoIP calls.

How Do VoIP Calls Work?

When the caller initiates a call from an IP-enabled phone, it connects to a computer network (usually the internet) via a router or a switch. By dialing the destination number, the IP phone notifies the VoIP service provider to connect to the called number. During the call, the phone converts audio signals to digital signals and sends them over the network as packets. At the other end, the VoIP provider converts the digital signal to the voice heard by the receiver. This analog-digital conversion is the reason why landlines require special VoIP adapters to place or receive VoIP calls. Computers and smartphones have the hardware and software to convert these signals.

What Are the Advantages of VoIP

VoIP has certain advantages that make it more attractive to business and personal users than traditional telephone services. For one, it is more affordable. Those switching to VoIP telephony can expect lower phone bills. Businesses usually see 30 - 50% reduction in their communication costs depending on their size and extent of VoIP adoption.

While long-distance calls cost more than local calls for landlines and mobile phones, this is not so with VoIP calls. VoIP routes both local and long-distance calls, as well as national and international calls, through the internet. Therefore, users’ call costs remain the same regardless of their destinations. This advantage makes remote work affordable for businesses of all sizes.

VoIP also delivers better audio quality during calls. By transmitting audio signals as uncompressed data over broadband internet connections, phone conversations sound clearer on both sides of phone calls. VoIP also offers features that are unavailable for landline and cell phone users. Some of these features are available but cost extra.

Does VoIP Have Disadvantages?

Yes. VoIP does have a few demerits. First, it requires a high-speed internet connection. Its reliance on data networks also means that services may be interrupted during power outages unless the VoIP provider offers backup power. Furthermore, some VoIP services do not connect to emergency services and some lack directory assistance for finding users by their phone numbers.

Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?

A VoIP number contains the same number of digits as a regular phone number. The major difference between the two types of phone numbers is that VoIP numbers are not tied to specific locations or equipment while traditional phone numbers are allocated to unique phones, phone lines, and users.

While assigning a landline or mobile phone number, the carrier considers the address of the subscriber and gives them a number with an area code for their location. There is no such restriction with a VoIP number. In fact, it is possible for someone living outside the country to obtain a VoIP number from a US provider. Therefore, a VoIP number does not indicate the area of residence or workplace of the user.

As VoIP numbers are not allocated to specific phone lines, users can place and answer VoIP calls from any number of devices including desk phones, computers, and mobile phones. As a VoIP number is not tied to a specific phone, office workers can keep taking business calls even when they are away from their desks. This difference makes remote work easier. It is possible for multiple users to share the same VoIP number. This is often the case with organizations with VoIP numbers assigned to different departments.

A key advantage of this difference between VoIP and traditional phone numbers is the portability of the former. When moving or changing jobs, a VoIP user does not have to change their phone number to reflect their new location.

How Do VoIP Calls Compare to Landline and Cell Phone Calls?

VoIP calls rely on IP phones. These can be dedicated VoIP phones or softphones. A softphone is a software for making VoIP calls over the internet. A desktop program that allows VoIP calls on a computer is a softphone. Similarly, a smartphone app for placing and receiving internet calls is a softphone. In comparison, landline and cell phone calls require actual phones and dedicated telephone installations which may be fiber optic connections, overhead copper lines, or cell towers.

When calling with an IP phone, audio signals are converted to digital signals in the form of data packets that are sent over computer networks. A landline phone converts audio signals to electrical signals for onward transmission via wires and telephone exchanges. Cell phone calls are sent to cellular towers after sound waves are converted to electromagnetic signals that hop from antennas and masts to and from their destinations.

Both landline and cell phone calls rely on expensive telephone infrastructure built solely for their purposes. In contrast, VoIP calls are mediated by computer networks, like the internet, that serve multiple purposes. Therefore, they are more affordable and cost-effective for business and personal users.

These differences also make VoIP telephone systems more flexible and easier to deploy than landline and mobile phone systems. It is a lot easier to add more users to a VoIP network than landline and cell phone networks. For users that already pay for internet access, VoIP calls can be free. This encourages them to talk longer on the phone and to place long-distance calls and call international numbers.

VoIP calls do not overburden the computer networks powering them. Users can keep working on their computers even while taking VoIP calls on them. They can also have multiple softphones or VoIP apps installed on their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Are VoIP Providers Regulated?

Yes. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not regulate VoIP service providers as closely as landline operators and cell phone carriers. Even then the FCC expects these VoIP phone service providers to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). Introduced in 1994, CALEA expects VoIP providers to be able to fulfil legal requests by law enforcement for information on their subscribers. This means that they must allow lawful phone number searches.

The FCC also mandates providers that allow VoIP calls to and from regular phone networks to make provisions for 911 calls. Such interconnected VoIP systems must offer 911 service as a standard feature and not as a paid or add-on benefit. However, VoIP users should know that VoIP phone systems handle 911 calls differently. The FCC provides a handy guide about 911 and VoIP systems. This guide outlines the limits of 911 call service on VoIP phone networks and expects VoIP callers to know that their VoIP 911 calls:

  • May not connect to the nearest 911 call center
  • May connect to the administrative line of the nearest call center. This may not be staffed after hours or may not have trained 911 operators
  • May not automatically transmit their locations or their phone numbers. Therefore, users may need to provide their location information to their VoIP service provider and keep these details updated whenever the relocate
  • May not connect if there is a power outage or when internet connections fail, slow down, or get overloaded

What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?

VoIP and internet calls require communication devices capable of going online and converting audio signals to data packets sent over the internet. VoIP calls require fast and stable internet connections on both ends. Broadband internet access is recommended for these calls.

A VoIP caller may choose to use a computer, a smartphone, or a landline. If opting to make internet calls with a landline phone, you also need an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA). This adapter turns the landline phone into a device that can connect to the internet and process VoIP transmissions. It plugs into the phone at one end and a network switch or router at the other end.

To make VoIP calls from a computer, you do not need a special adapter. However, you require a microphone, speakers, and a software capable of making internet calls. The microphone receives voice input while speakers serve as audio output devices. Both hardware may come in a single piece of equipment such as a headset. Most laptops have built-in microphones and speakers. However, these microphones may sit too far away from users during VoIP calls.

Video calling via VoIP is possible with computers as well as smartphones and tablets. These devices have built-in cameras. It is easy to add a webcam to a computer without one. Most webcams are plug-and-play USB computer accessories.

Most VoIP programs and apps for computers and mobile devices support both video and voice calls. Some VoIP software have both desktop and mobile apps. Examples of these are Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype. Other VoIP apps are solely or mostly used on mobile devices. WhatsApp and FaceTime fall in this category.

VoIP software have different sets of features. Factors to consider when selecting a VoIP software include interconnectivity, maximum number of callers supported, ease of use, and compatibility with the various desktop and mobile operating systems. You should also consider if a VoIP application can call landline and mobile phone numbers. Only some VoIP programs can manage this and they usually charge for calls to regular phone numbers.

Can You Make Free VoIP Calls?

Yes. It is possible to make free VoIP calls. However, there are usually restrictions to such calls. Most VoIP platforms allow users to call for free as long as they are calling other users on the same platform. However, there are VoIP programs that accept calls from users of other programs. These apps do not charge to connect users of other VoIP platforms.

It is more common to make free VoIP calls between VoIP phones and apps than to regular phone numbers. VoIP calls to landline and cell phone numbers are rarely provided for free except as bonus offers by VoIP service providers. Some may give users a certain number of minutes per month to call regular phone numbers at no additional cost. A VoIP service provider is more likely to provide such offers for local and national calls. International calls to regular phone numbers rely on agreements with multiple national and foreign carriers. Therefore, calling international landline or cell phone numbers will likely be expensive for VoIP service providers if they do not charge for such calls.