Friday, April 14, 2006

So You Wanna Try VoIP? Arm Yourself With The Truth First.

It seems like everyone and their Uncle has at least heard of VoIP (internet telephony) by now. Many people worldwide are happy users....but some have found issues they didn't expect due to unrealistic expectations or poor research prior to jumping in. Before you decide to join the mass migration to VoIP please do your homework and prepare yourself.

To help you understand the nitty gritty about VoIP....and give you the best chance for a great experience....read the below primer on VoIP. It's one of the best, all-inclusive explanations of VoIP technology I have ever seen. It should be a "must read" for anyone considering VoIP....or having questions of any kind about VoIP phones. The source is the VoIP Forum at DSLReports.com .... and is shared here word for word so as to give you the whole experience. Please keep in mind that some of the info may be a bit dated (e.g. on E911) since this is from April 2005...so do check for newer info where appropriate.

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So you wanna try Voip?

A few guidelines & answers for those new to Voip

You might also want to look at the Official Voip FAQ Or the Voip Wiki

1. What is this Voip thing?
2. If it's like a regular telephone, why bother?
3. Why doesn't everyone get Voip?
4. What kind of hiccups are we talking about?
5. Where can I find out more?
6. Other considerations
7. In Conclusion

1. What is this Voip thing?

Voip (pronounced 'voyp') is Voice over IP, a way to send voice conversations over the internet. You might have run across this already with voice/chat applications like Skype or MSN Messenger. Much of the current interest though is in using Voip to make telephone calls. When I make a Voip phone call, I use a normal telephone and dial the normal phone number of whoever I am calling. The people on the other end can't tell that whether I'm calling from a traditional telephone or a Voip one. The main difference is that the phone call travels over the internet rather than through the local phone company's wires.

2. If it's like a regular telephone, why bother?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. A lot of people are attracted to Voip because it typically costs less than phone service from your local Telco (Telephone company). Often you can get a flat rate Voip service that includes unlimited long distance calls in the US/Canada for $20 - $30 per month. Some plans include free long distance calls to other various other countries. If you don't use your phone much, you might be able to get a limited use plan for about $10 per month. Phone service usually costs a lot more than this with a Telco. In many areas it is still not possible to get a flat rate long distance plan from a Telco, so Voip is very attractive to those who make or would like to make a lot of long distance calls.

Secondly, most Voip companies offer feature rich plans. A lot of Telco's charge additional fees for services like Caller ID, call forwarding or distinctive ring. Most Voip plans include dozens of custom calling features in their base rate. So you don't pay extra for things like Caller ID or voicemail. Voip providers have also added a lot of features that you may not have seen before. Features like detailed call logs, being able to manage your custom calling features from the web or the option of obtaining a phone number in a different area code than the one you live in.

3. Why doesn't everyone get Voip?

Voip has only become widespread in the last five years, so it is a new technology. And like most new technologies, there have been a few hiccups along the way. If any interruption to your phone service would be a disaster, then Voip may not be for you. But if you like the cost savings, full feature palette and can live with the occasional bug, then you may find Voip to be a very good thing indeed. If you do decide to try Voip, don't give up your regular phone immediately. Try Voip for at least a few weeks to get a feel for it before you cut your landline or cellular ties, just in case you decide that Voip isn't for you.

4. What kind of hiccups are we talking about?

Since Voip routes phone calls over the internet, you have to have broadband ('always on') internet first. And your dial tone will only be as reliable as your ISP. If your internet has an outage, then so will your Voip. And if your internet is flakey, then your phone will be too.

Voip is digital. It works fine for talking to your neighbour across the street or calling your Grandmother in Italy. But it may not work for 'analog' calls like fax machines, your Tivo or your home alarm system. This varies from provider to provider. In fact, my fax, Tivos, Ultimate TV and alarm system all work fine on Voip. Just be aware that you may run into difficulties and what works with one provider may not for another.

<911> Don't depend on your Voip line to call 911. Or 112 (EU), 999 (UK), 000 (Australia).. well, you get the idea. It may or may not work. If this makes you nervous then either have an alternate method to reach your country's Emergency number, such as a landline or cell phone. Or simply stay away from Voip. Voip providers have not been around as long as Telco's and are just beginning to build up specialized infrastructure to handle 911 calls. Also Voip is nomadic. That is if you travel, go on vacation or move, your phone number can go with you as long as there is an internet connection at your destination. So the 911 system doesn't have any easy way to know where a Voip customer is physically located. I just keep a cell around in case I ever need to call 911. In most places even an inactive cell that does not have an active account will still be able to place an emergency 911 call.

Voip gives you the whole range of custom calling features. But you may loose a few 'landline' features too. Your Voip provider probably won't support collect, person to person or 1-900 payment type services. Depending on your provider, you may or may not have access to 411 (directory assistance), 311 (Current events, weather) or 0 (operator assisted dialing). Lastly, you may not be able to reach regionally restricted toll free numbers. If the 1-800 number is national, it will work fine. But sometimes a company will only pay for the 1-800 number to work in their home state or region. Your Voip company probably connects to the telephone network somewhere else, so you may not be able to reach a restricted 1-800 number in your home state. Having said that I haven't run into a restricted 1-800 number in quite a while, so maybe they aren't that common anymore. None of these 'limitations' concern me, but you should be aware of them in case they are important to you.

5. Where can I find out more?

You can find user reviews for most of the Voip companies here. And this forum is a good place to ask questions too.

Keep in mind that sometimes the same questions are asked over and over. So you will get a warmer reception in the forum if you take sixty seconds to try finding your answer with the search button first, before jumping into the fray. Some people in the forum (like me) might give you a hard time if it obvious that you didn't bother searching first. If your search is unsuccessful then some of the forum regulars will try to help you.

This is a list of some of the better known Voip providers. This is not an endorsement of any particular provider(s), it just isn't practical to maintain an all-inclusive list. The companies are listed alphabetically

AT&T reviews

Broadvoice reviews

Broadvox reviews

Lingo reviews

Packet 8 reviews

Quantum Voice reviews

Rocketvoip reviews

Sunrocket reviews

Voice Pulse reviews

Vonage reviews

6. Other Considerations

How do I connect my phone to the Internet?

When you sign up with one of the Voip providers, they will send you a small Voip 'adapter'. The adapter connects between your phone and your internet. Many of the adapters can function as a basic router too, if you don't already have one. Some providers will also let you sign up using your own adapter (if you have one). These are called 'BYOD' (Bring Your Own Device) plans and may entitle you to a discounted plan rate. If you are careful to ensure that you are disconnected from the Telco wiring, you could also plug the Voip adapter into a telephone jack in your house. Then all of the jacks would have a Voip dial tone.

Is the call quality clear?

If your ISP is solid your Voip calls should be about the same as a traditional plain old telephone call. Some providers will let you choose the quality level. Lower quality rates use less bandwidth (around 30Kbps) and may sound a bit hollow, muffled or tinny. Higher quality rates use more bandwidth (around 90Kbps) and sound as good as or better than a Telco call. Some people report that their phone call quality suffers if they use the internet while on the phone. If you experience this problem it can be fixed by using a 'QoS' capable router such as the Linksys WRT54G. QoS gives a higher priority to Voip during a call so that the call quality does not suffer.

How dependable is my Internet?

Your Voip will work a lot better if you have a solid path to the internet. This does not mean that you are home free just because you have lots of bandwidth. It doesn't make much difference to Voip if you paid extra to get that 10Mbit line. Yes you do need a certain amount of bandwidth (30 - 90Kbps in each direction). But we are really talking about line quality, not speed. Quality means having very few dropped packets and low jitter and latency. There are some good line quality tests on this site if you aren't sure about your ISP.

I thought that Voip was free?

The type of Voip that we have been talking about costs less than a Telco but is not free. There are some free services available that you may want to look into such as Skype or FWD. Free services excel at making PC to PC calls, but may have limited access to the regular (PSTN) Telephone network.

Number Portability (Porting)

Can I transfer (port) my landline or cell number to a Voip provider? "Porting Rules" is a good description of how porting works. Often you can port an existing landline (and maybe a wireless) number to Voip if you want to. Keep in mind that if a Voip provider provides you with a new number and you later decide to change companies that you may not be able to keep the number that was assigned to your account. The porting rules may not apply if the number originated with a Voip provider.

7. In Conclusion

So is Voip for you? Only you can decide that. There are a lot of happy Voip users here, but like anything you have to try it on yourself and see how it fits. Ask around, maybe some of your friends are already using Voip. Read a few reviews, wander around some of the provider websites. Is there a provider offering a trial period or money-back guarantee? And if you do try out Voip, don't give up your existing phone until you have actually used Voip for a few weeks. Just in case your ISP turns out to be flakey or you run into problems. If you find yourself liking Voip, then tell a few friends about it.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Rebecca Jones said...

Although there are certain challenges attached with VoIP Technology, but there are solutions also to meet these challenges and the technology is certainly emerging as a major player in the telecom industry.

VoIP is here for quite some time and will become inevitable in the future as a replacement of traditional phone lines to cut down on enormous phone bills.

We provide Wholesale VoIP Call Termination and VoIP Minutes for a-z VoIP Routes and if you are ready to move to VoIP and looking for a suitable VoIP Service Provider, you can visit us to get more info and services related to VoIP Technology.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous digitalhero said...

Voip is here to stay
VoIP Phones

7:50 AM  

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