What is a VoIP phone?

By Anthony Caruana | January 29, 2014

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around for a while. But what is it and what can you use it for?

Since its simultaneous - yet independent - invention by Alexander Graham Bell and Antonio Meucci in the 1870s, the telephone system has always been reliant upon its own infrastructure: poles and wires.

Almost a decade ago, things started to slowly change. As the internet became more ubiquitous and connectivity soared, it became possible to send communications in real time. In the past, audio and video could only be sent as entire files, but a telephone call is a constant stream of data that requires a reliable connection.

What is a VoIP telephone system?

VoIP telephone systems use the internet in place of the poles and wires provided by telecommunications providers. Instead of connecting to sockets installed by these providers, VoIP telephones connect directly to a data network. When that handset is activated, by simply lifting the receiver, it connects to a service provider who links that handset over the internet to the regular phone system.

What are the advantages?

The key advantage of VoIP over the traditional phone system is that it can be used independently of a phone company's infrastructure. For example, it's possible for a VoIP provider to give you a handset that can connect to the internet but for the same number to also work through an app on your smartphone. That means you can make and receive calls from a single phone number no matter where you are.

And disadvantages?

It's not all plain sailing, however. VoIP relies on a stable internet connection. If the internet connection becomes slow through heavy traffic then call quality can suffer with crackly lines, dropouts and poor sound.

Generally, VoIP services can be cheaper than traditional phone systems, but it's important to look at costs carefully. There may be monthly service charges and call costs. There is a perception that VoIP services are free, such as the popular Skype service and Apple's FaceTime Audio, but these are limited. For example, Skype calls between Skype users are free, but using the Skype Out feature to call people on the traditional phone system incurs a fee.

In summary

VoIP is handy if you are renting and want to be able to move your phone system easily. A VoIP handset only needs an internet connection - it doesn't care where that comes from. In contrast, the phone system requires a connection and, potentially, a physical installation in order to work. Consider what you use your business phone for and how, then decide if it's the right option for you.


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