VoIP phone service: VoIP is quickly becoming a desirable alternative to traditional phone service. Having features no normal phone service can offer and more importantly a price they can’t match, VoIP is an up and coming industry with customers who swear by it.
When analyzed VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, looks like the next great evolution in how the Internet enables us to communicate more efficiently. Email transformed how we stay in touch and run a business. Instant messaging went one-step further making the communication almost immediate. Now the information exchange revolution has leaped ahead once again using VoIP. But, that doesn’t make it the final solution to all phone problems just yet. VoIP, like email before it, has security flaws and technical drawbacks. Before you take the plunge you might want to know exactly what VoIP is and if it’s the phone service for you?
The best way to imagine VoIP, also called Internet telephony, is to picture a continuous stream of instant audible emails. Speaking into a regular phone, electrical input signals from your voice are transformed into packets of information by the adapter supplied by your VoIP provider. Those packets are then sent through your broadband connection and find their way to a final destination, which could be any phone in the world.
If you want to be bare bones about VoIP you don’t even need a provider, adapter or even money. Skype is the number one free program you can download that lets you dial a friend using your computer. While it is technically VoIP you’re only able to call other Skype users, so really it’s just a good way to test drive some new technological service you might be curious about. In fact, as I write this AOL is releasing their own member-to-member VoIP service, proof that this tech savvy technology is going to become user friendly and mainstream very soon.
The real benefits of VoIP only come when you decide to shell out cash to a private VoIP service provider. But, what draws so many people to VoIP initially is that it is actually the best way to lower phone bills, especially for chronic long distance callers.
Normally if I called Peru, my voice would travel through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The further away I call, the more wires my voice goes through, making Peru a pretty expensive and rushed phone call. Calling by VoIP, however, means my voice is traveling via Internet, so time and distance become a very small factor. In fact, most VoIP service plans are a la carte, some for as low as $20 a month. All the calls you want anywhere in North America for as little as $20, with international calls (like to Peru) for as little as .03 cents a minute.
Now obviously there tons of different VOIP providers each offering a range of calling packages, just like traditional phone companies. For that reason I can’t tell you which Provider to join. That all depends on your calling habits. Do you call European relatives a lot, do you use the phone more than 30 hours a month or more; these are all factors in deciding what plan to purchase. The simple fact is you will have to shop around. But the wonderful thing is, compared to the AT&T’s of the world almost every VOIP provider is a steal.
You will also save a bit on taxes, but this exemption won’t last forever. The FCC is probably letting the industry grow before they decide to reap the benefits of taxing a fat VOIP sector. But avoiding phone taxes isn’t what makes VOIP attractive in the first place. More than likely you’ll only save $10-15 on taxes and this is chump change compared to what you can save on long distance with VOIP. What really makes VOIP a perfect holiday gift are the features. These are the aspects of VOIP that you really want to sink your phone into.
Instantly your phone number is no longer restricted to an analogue landline. The Internet provides freedoms and conveniences no automated voice box could ever dream of. For starters you’re going to get options like organizing your phone messages in your email inbox. You can also choose your own area code, which means a business located in Montana can front a Manhattan phone number to impress clients. But these are just little neato’s on the tip of the VOIP iceberg.
What VOIP really offers customers is a portable land line. Your phone goes wherever the Internet exists. Which means unless you are moving to the Antarctic, you will never need to change your phone number again. Going on a trip? Bring your adapter with you (it’s not too big or clunky) plug it into your hotel phone and if you have Internet access you won’t miss a single call. In truth you don’t even need to bring the adapter to keep your landline around. Instead have your house calls routed to your cell phone. If you run a business with employees who telecommute, VOIP will make a call to your business line ring on the phone of every employee no matter where they are, it’s as simple as sending a mass email. Every small business can have the phone system of a a multi office corporation.
Are you beginning to get a feel for the possibilities? The best part is that VOIP still has room to grow. For example, we know how to stream video over the Internet and that means video phone conferences, a part of every futuristic vision of phone conversations since the 80’s, could finally become mainstream through VOIP.
So what’s the downside? With all these great features, an unbeatable price and room to grow why isn’t everybody hopping on the bandwagon and taking it down to VOIP central station? Good question.
The first and most important answer is quality. When it’s working properly VOIP phone calls are on par if not better than traditional phone calls over the PSTN. If your home Internet connection is shoddy, however, you run the risk of never having a decent phone conversation again. The fact that VOIP uses the Internet as the pathway for your voice instead of the traditional PSTN means that occasionally your call could be routed over a congested part of the Internet, resulting in lagged reception and awkward lulls in a conversation. No matter how great the features are what VOIP needs to offer first and foremost is quality, reliable phone service. Until they can guarantee that, it just isn’t worth it.
Next is the issue of practicality. All these features are great, but just like most techno-toys we really don’t need everything they offer. So if you do buy a VOIP plan, make sure you’re getting the features you will use and need. Along the same lines of practicality is the fact that this is still a new and sometimes tricky technology. Do you really want to have to post a topic on a Vonage forum to troubleshoot sending a simple fax? The potential difficulties of trying to synchronize your fax, phone, TiVo, email inbox and more into a cohesive system takes away from the purpose of VOIP, which is easy instant communication. Sure the provider might help set you up but they won’t be there to hold your hand every time the network burps. And if the burps are often enough you’ll start to think that VOIP is more hassle than what it’s worth.
And all of this doesn’t even touch on issues of security, which although not all encompassing aren’t just hot air. Don’t forget, your voice is being sent over the Internet as packets of information which means that your phone system is subject to the same security flaws as a computer. This includes hacking, viruses and more.
So where does this leave us? VOIP has some serious appeal but they are coupled with drawbacks that might make you hesitant. In truth just like any new technology VOIP will improve over time. It certainly isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, so if you like to stay on the tip of things, like I said, VOIP is the next evolution in Internet communication. It isn’t worth its weight in gold yet, but it certainly can save you as much.