This is a short guide to a technology called 'Voice Over Internet Protocol' (VOIP)
What is VOIP?
Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP as it is now commonly called, is a technology that allows users to communicate with other users using the internet as the means of carrying the conversation. Unlike Instant Messaging (IM), Chat (Facebook, Windows Messenger etc), which are forms of two way messaging by text via the Internet (and usually only one way at a time), VOIP allows conversation and in some cases video to operate both ways at the same time (duplex).
Early versions, included the Skype service, that allows users to talk with and see (through webcams) other users over the internet completely free of charges. All that was required, was a PC connected to the internet by 'broadband' and the Skype software installed on the user's & the remote PC. Skype has a free sign up and registration process, . There are various settings for using Skype but the easiest way to get to know these, is to download the software and install it on your PC.
Once this protocol had been established, it also became possible to 'dial out' from your PC, to other users landlines and mobiles, just about anywhere in the world! However, this came and still comes at a cost - although these costs tend to be much lower than the traditional means of telephone communication. At first, manufacturers produced handsets that could be plugged into PC's via a USB port. These VOIP phones were also dual purpose in that you could still make Skype to Skype calls as well as dialing out to landlines and mobiles - previously, such Skype to Skype calls required a headset with attached microphone in order to hear and talk to their remote contact.
Since the mid decade, VOIP has been available to both domestic and business users and the technologies have been developed to allow connection to standard handsets in the office or home. As long as there is a connection to the internet through a suitable adapter, there is no longer any need to have a PC, (unless of course you still want to use the Skype video service for Skype to Skype calls). In essence, a good broadband connection can replace a traditional land line or cable installation. This has brought substantial savings to both business and domestic users. Simple 'line rental plans', which involve the the leasing of a telephone number (although in some cases, existing numbers can now be retained). Call costs can range from zero to just a few pence per minute and where there is a need to make international calls, the price is very significantly lower than standard telephony.
Call quality is excellent, although sometimes there will be 'dwell' or delay between conversations so that one side may start speaking before the other side has finished but this is generally minimal and once you get used to it, it will not be noticeable.
Bandwidth usage is also minimal, typically 90kbits/sec or less, so if you have a connection giving say 2mbits/sec or more, then there will be no issues in using the broadband connection for 'multi-tasking', i.e. surfing the internet whilst on the phone. Installations using Wi-fi may find that several users are accessing the web whilst a phone call is being made, none of whom will be interferring with each other
VOIP Service Providers
VOIP service providers fall into two or three categories:
The first and perhaps the most traditional, use the Skype protocols and make charges for calls to land lines and mobiles ('3' however have a services that allows free Skype to Skype calls, even though it is a mobile airtime provider). Calls to non Skype destinations are charged at a few pence per minute, using credits which are usually pre-paid by credit or debit card. It doesn't cost anything to 'rent a line', although you can 'buy' a number that your contacts can use to call you through the Skype system. These online numbers are available on subscription for periods of 3 months or more and callers based in the same country as you get charged Skype rates for their calls. It means in essence that anyone calling your number can reach you wherever you are (just like a mobile) - as long as your are online with your PC.
The second category of VOIP is one that uses the internet as their virtual telephone system, so that if you have one of their adapters connected to your broadband service, your telephones can work just like a normal land line. Generally, you rent one or more lines, (usually around half the cost of say BT,Virgin, Talk Talk or Sky). The rental includes a number (which can be your original 'ported' to the service when you sign up. There are usually 'call plans', which are included in your monthly cost. that allow you to call several different countries for free - for as long as you want - no need to redial ofter 60 minutes and no connection charges. Substantial annual savings can be achieved by using VOIP services.
The third category of VOIP service relates mainly to business users, who may also have significant networking requirements and have many phones in their offices. Discussion relating to these services is beyond the scope of this guide.
VOIP can only work when there is a power source and an internet connection present. If either goes down, then so does your phone service.
Emergency Service calls to 112 and/or 999 can only be made while the phone service is up and running AND you need to have activated the service through your VOIP provider. This is vital because the telephone numbers used by VOIP cannot automatically be recognized by location and the activation process includes confirming the location from where you are using the VOIP service. This issue refers to UK based installations only.
In the event of a power or service outage, it is important that a call divert service is in place to send calls being made to your number whilst the service is down. This can be to a mobile, a traditional land line, either at your premises or elsewhere. Diversion to mobile numbers will be at your cost.
With the now almost universal use of digital (DECT) phones in residential and small office locations, these also DO NOT WORK in the event of a power failure and so, the need for call diversion is equally important. All VOIP service providers now provide labels to affix to handsets, warning of the issues relating to loss of service. Not all DECT manufacturers have yet met this requirement and so it is important to ensure that when new handsets are acquired, that the users understand the potential problems caused by loss of the phone service.
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