Introduction to Voice Over IP (VOIP) Phone Service

By: Marc Ilgen

Anyone who is old enough to remember making long distance phone calls 30 years ago would also agree that telephone communication has changed considerably over the past three decades. Certainly the introduction and mass adoption of the cellphone has changed voice communication immeasurably. But there is a new revolution going on in landline communication as well. The latest technology is called Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP for short. It is also known as Internet Telephony, a name that is derived from the fact that VoIP involves making phone calls over a broadband internet connection.

VoIP technology is taking the world by storm for mainly one reason - it is much cheaper than phonecalls made with the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS). It is very common for people who switch to using VoIP over POTS to save several hundred dollars per year off their phone bills. Furthermore, VoIP offers a wide variety of services like caller ID, 3 way calling, call forwarding, and so on at no extra charge. While most of these features are available in POTS plans, they are almost always available only for an extra monthly charge. So VoIP phone service offers improved phone service for less money - who doesn't love that idea?

VoIP technology has come a long way since it was invented in the mid 1990's. Originally, computer hobbyists were responsible for creating VoIP so that they could use voice communication between two people who both had computers and specialized voice equipment. The first VoIP companies began delivering products to the market in 1996, and by 1998 or 1999, VoIP technology had become a topic of considerable interest in technically oriented publications. The largest VoIP company (Vonage) started in 2001 and signed its first residential customer in 2002. Within the next two years, newer companies like Sunrocket entered the market to compete with Vonage by offering the same service at an even lower price. Today, an ever-growing number of residential and business customers are adopting VoIP technology as they discover the cost and performance advantages offered by the technology.

Another nice feature of VoIP is that switching from a POTS plan is very easy. You do need a broadband internet connection (cable, DSL, even wireless) but aside from that, the VoIP company you sign with will give you everything you need. The equipment can include either analog telephone adapter (ATA) which connects your existing phone to your broadband internet connection. However, it is more common these days for the VoIP carrier to provide you with a new VoIP phone, which looks just like your regular phone but is specially made to work with VoIP.

One of the latest exciting features of VoIP is portability. On leading VoIP carriers like Sunrocket and Vonage, you can take your VoIP modem with you when you go on business trips or on vacation, and simply connect this modem to any computer at your destination (any computer with a broadband internet connection). If you do this, your phone number travels with you! No one back home will ever know that you are overlooking the beach in Florida rather than sitting in your office in Cleveland. Imagine the possibilities!

The fact that VoIP is internet-based is the only major downside to VoIP. Unfortunately, internet connections occasionally go down, and during this time there is no VoIP service. Many people get around this problem by having a cellphone available as an emergency backup. So many people have cellphones these days that this is usually not an issue. So, you can use the VoIP system for making calls cheaply, and use the more expensive cellphone only for those emergency situations when the internet is down. In this way, you get the best of both worlds.

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