Broadband: Into the VoIP

By: J Tillotson

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a complicated term for the fairly simple process of using your internet PC to make phone calls. VoIP has expanded in popularity recently and is now seen as a viable alternative to the humble telephone call.

VoIP uses packet switching as opposed to the more traditional circuit switching used by landlines, and can give the same quality of a call as a landline phone. It's also much cheaper, and relatively easy to set up.

There are 4 different VoIP types; PC to PC - Skype is an example of this; PC to telephone - Callserve uses this method; Telephone to Telephone - BT Broadband Voice is a form of this, and IP Phone to Telephone - Vonage is a common example.

Skype uses an instant messenger service, and both parties use a headset plugged into their PC to make and receive calls. Callserve is similar, but only the caller uses the headset, communicating with the PC at the other end. Broadband Voice use adapters which mean your phone runs through your broadband connection instead of your landline, and Vonage use phones which are, in themselves, small PC's with their own IP address.

Calling another person with VoIP is free, and therefore it is seen as a great moneysaving way to communicate with family and friends all over the world. Using VoIP to call someone who doesn't have it incurs a charge, but this is usually less than you'd pay for standard calls, and is the same no matter where you call. So, you could call your friend in America for the same price as calling your aunt in Devon. VoIP is also beneficial to businesses, especially where the business is located over several sites. Internal calls can be free if the whole company is wired to VoIP.

The major concern when VoIP first began to rise in popularity was the quality of the calls; however now technology has improved to the point that it's hard to tell the difference between a landline and VoIP call. Perhaps the only drawback now is that not enough is known about it.

To start using VoIP is simple. For the basic package all you need is a broadband connection on your PC, a headset or microphone and speakers/headphones, and the use of an instant messaging service such as Skype, MSN or ICQ, which are all free to use. You can have all the features normally associated with phones; caller ID, ring back and voicemail, plus you can set up three-way calling and choose to block certain numbers from calling you.

But VoIP isn't for everyone. If you have a power failure or loss of connection, you would be without a phone altogether, so consider how you would manage in that case; perhaps a mobile phone? You may not get all the features mentioned above, or others you'd like, as different providers offer different packages. You may also have to pay line rental, and because of this many people prefer to use VoIP to compliment their landline rather than replace it. There's no doubt that the technology is useful, especially for long-distance calls, but don't throw out your landline phone just yet.

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