Taking a Hard Look at VOIP Services

by : Jon Arnold

It seems like almost everyone is pushing VOIP these days. You can hardly walk into Best Buy or Circuit City without seeing all kinds of ads and flyers for VOIP services. There are VOIP ads included with many of your credit card statements, as well as from your home DSL or residential cable Internet services provider. How do you know which one is best and how do you separate fact from marketing hype?

My advice is to take a long hard look at what is being offered. First and foremost, you need to understand a little bit about how VOIP works. You don't need to understand it down to deep technical degrees, but you do need to understand that VOIP uses your high-speed Internet connection to make and receive phone calls.

What this means to you is that if your residential high-speed Internet connection is not reliable and stable, you are not going to have a good experience with VOIP, and that statement is true regardless of which VOIP service you go with. Almost all home high speed Internet connection say they provide some speed. But what they don't tell you is that this is the DOWN speed, or the rate at which information comes into your computer from the Internet. What they are NOT telling you is two things:

1. That "down" speed is a theoretical maximum only. With residential high speed, you are SHARING your circuit connection with perhaps as many as 50 or more other households, and the only time you will probably see the advertised speed is if each and every one of those 50+ other households are not using their connection.

2. Your "up" speed, or the speed at which information goes from your home to the Internet is typically very much reduced, sometimes to the point where it is only about twice the speed of a dialup connection.

So what this means is that you stand a very good chance of running out of bandwidth, especially if you are trying to carry on a VOIP conversation while your spouse and son are surfing on your connection at the same time. You will hear pauses in the conversation and the conversation will be spotty and broken.

This is NOT the fault of the VOIP provider. The VOIP provider is assuming that you have a rock solid high speed Internet connection, and they have no control over your Internet connection. It's like going out and buying the best tires that money can buy, but after you put them on your 62 VW, that will not make it a competitive race car.

Assuming your residential Internet connection is solid and reliable, examine each offering to see what it provides. VOIP service typically includes unlimited local and long distance calling within the continental US, and some providers also include unlimited calling in Canada, Puerto Rico, and other places. But for that basic service, some carriers are charging $40 per month or more, while others are charging under $20 per month.

Look at what you are paying for and whether you will really use or if you really need more extras than that. Why pay $40 when the services you need 99% of the time can be had for under $20?

VOIP is a very competitive market these days and you need to understand what you are paying for and how much you are paying for "extras". Also be aware of how much you are paying for the extras and if you really need them. VOIP is a great technology but make sure you are getting as much bang for your buck as you should so that you can enjoy your VOIP services.