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An Introduction to VoIP

Updated on October 7, 2015
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Communication Evolution

The glory years of snail mail are long gone. The dawn of the internet saw huge changes in how we communicate and stay in touch with each other. Email has all but replaced the letter as a method of communication because it is quick, easy and free. In recent years, however, new forms of communication are beginning to come to the forefront. Skype recently announced that their users were spending 2 billion minutes a day using the communication platform to stay in touch with friends and relatives. You may have heard about people choosing to utilise VoIP services either in the workplace or for personal use but not know what it means. Skype is actually a type of VoIP service. The term VoIP can also be referred to as ‘internet telephony’ or ‘IP telephony’ which can add to existing confusion about what VoIP actually is. This hub looks at what VoIP actually is and the ways it is used.

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VoIP & Internet Telephony

VoIP is ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’ and is essentially a way of making telephone calls but doing so by using internet infrastructure instead of a normal telephone line. When you make a normal telephone call it will use a packet switched telephone network (PSTN) and the information will be sent as analogue signals over copper wire. VoIP differs from a normal telephone call because instead of using analogue signals, the voice signal is turned into digital data packets and sent over the internet. Most people that use VoIP will use their computer (as they will often have built in speakers and microphone) to make internet calls but you can use a telephone that has a special VoIP adapter that connects it to a network.

Some people may talk about using IP telephony while others may simply refer to it as VoIP. Is there a difference between the two terms? Technically the two terms do refer to different things but they can be used interchangeably. The expression ‘IP telephony’, or ‘internet telephony’, is an umbrella term for the area of communications that uses the internet, IP standards and digital phone systems. VoIP, therefore, is a type of internet telephony - it refers to the specific way that voice signals are converted and transmitted over the internet.

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Using VoIP

VoIP can be very easy to set up. In fact, you may have already used it without realising it. Some long distance calls are now made through the use of VoIP so if you have made a long distance call you may have already used VoIP. The reason that some phone companies do this is because it allows them to simplify and restructure their network. If you want to start using VoIP yourself it can be fairly straightforward to set up. In many cases you will not need to purchase any new hardware because it is quite likely that you already have a broadband internet connection and a built in microphone and speakers. If you are using VoIP in an office setting you may want to purchase a headset that you plug in to your computer. You will then need to pick a VoIP service to use use. Setting these services up will often simply involve downloading and installing some software from the internet. For home use you may want to choose something like Skype but if you are looking for a business solution you will probably need to choose a more advanced VoIP and unified communication platform.

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Drawbacks

Like most forms of technology, there are a few disadvantages to using VoIP. The quality of your telephone calls does rely on the quality of your internet connection. A good broadband connection is important when using VoIP. In a similar vein, if you don’t have an internet connection at all you will not be able to make any calls - if your internet connection drops you will not be able to use your VoIP service. As normal phone calls are usually of quite high quality, the variable nature of VoIP can seem more obvious in comparison. If your internet connection is fairly slow the compression and decompression of voice signals can cause a lag or an echo in your calls. Problems with lags and echoes can occur in business environments where many people are using shared connections. For the most part, however, if you have a good internet connection you should not encounter these issues.

VoIP can also be inappropriate for making emergency calls. This is down to the fact that due to the nature of VoIP a geographic location cannot, in some cases, be attached with enough accuracy to an IP address. This means that the emergency services cannot accurately pinpoint the location of the call. In addition, some VoIP services do not even provide the functionality to make emergency calls.

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Benefits

Though there are some disadvantages to using VoIP, the advantages of using a VoIP service over a standard telephone network are numerous. Most VoIP services will have a number of extra features and functionality that you may have to pay extra for if you are using a standard phone network. These extras may include: three-way calling, call transfer, call waiting and caller ID. Some VoIP services will also include the option to filter your calls, i.e. you could forward the call to another number or you can give the caller a busy signal. Though these are useful advantages, the main benefit of using VoIP is the cost. There is a wide range of free VoIP services to choose from. Due to the fact that VoIP utilises your existing internet setup there will not be any extra costs on your monthly internet bill. When there is a cost involved, such as when you completely replaced standard phone services with VoIP, it is still much lower than the cost of making normal phone calls. These savings can be up to 90%.

With VoIP you can easily organise group calls and you can send images, text and video as well as a voice signal. There is little need to purchase new hardware as the speakers and microphones required will often already be available on your computer. VoIP can be used over Wi-Fi and most services will optimise bandwidth usage by not using bandwidth when a user is not speaking and in the gaps in conversation. A VoIP system can be useful for those looking to keep in touch with family and friends but can also be an advantageous option for enterprises. A business VoIP system and a good quality internet connection can help companies to save money on phone calls and communication.

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