VoIP FAQs

Can I use VoIP to replace my standard phone line entirely?

Yes, but a few factors have to be kept in mind when using VoIP as your exclusive phone line.

These include:

· If you can't get a phone number in your local area, your neighbors' calls to you will be long distance for them, unless off course they are also VoIP enabled

· If your internet connection is down (power failure, server problems etc), you will lose your phone service as well

· While voice quality is almost as good as with traditional phone lines, there may be occasional glitches such as echoes and slight delays. Not unlike using cellular phones.

· If you have a DSL broadband connection, you will still need a traditional phone line into your home.

· Your phone number will not appear in the traditional phone book or directory assistance.

· Downloading a large file off the internet while on the phone can cause significant call degradation, or cut the phone call altogether. This is usually only the case with slower internet connections.

· It may be difficult for some VoIP services to seamlessly connect with the 911 dispatch center or identify the location of Internet Voice 911 callers

If I have a VoIP or internet phone service, who can I call?

Depending upon your VoIP service, you might be limited only to other subscribers to the service, or you may be able to call any phone number, anywhere in the world. The call can be made to a local number, a mobile phone, to a long distance number, or an international number. You may even utilize the service to speak with more than one person at a time (conference call). The person you are calling does not need any special equipment, just a phone.

What is Voice over IP?

Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that allows voice traffic to be transmitted over a data network, such as the public internet. Using VoIP and, usually in conjunction with a broadband internet connection (cable modem or DSL), it is possible to use a wide range of equipment to make telephone calls over the net.

Using an adapter, or a special IP Phone (Phone-to-Phone) or software (PC-to-Phone) the voice signal from your telephone or PC is converted into a digital signal (data packet) that travels over the internet and then converts the signal back at the other end so you can speak to anyone in the world with a regular phone number.

When placing a VoIP call using a phone with an adapter, you'll hear a dial tone and you dial just as you always have. VoIP may also allow you to make a call directly from a computer using a conventional telephone, a USB phone or a headset with a microphone.

What are the advantages of using VoIP services?

There are several advantages using Voice over IP (VoIP), including the availability of advanced features that standard telephone systems are not capable of and the ability to have a phone number usually associated with a particular local area anywhere in the world.

But the biggest single advantage VoIP has over standard telephone systems is cost and especially international calls using VoIP are substantially lower than making calls using traditional telephone networks. Depending on the destination of your call, savings of up to 90-95% are not uncommon. Using our VoIP rates search engine with a database of almost all providers in the world you can, at the click of the button, find the cheapest VoIP provider for your favorite destinations. You will notice that the differences are substantial even between VoIP service providers.

One further advantage, which will become much more pronounced in the very near future with the acceptance of VoIP together with the availability of broadband connections internationally, is that calls between users of the same VoIP system or provider are almost always free of charge to both parties. You can talk as often and as long as you like for free.

What do I need in order to be able to use “broadband” or “PC-to-Phone” VoIP service in my home?

Obviously, the minimum requirement to use VoIP is a connection to the internet. If your connection to the internet is through a standard dial-up modem, you will also need a computer to access the internet. Keep in mind that a dial-up connection, can only provide a maximum of 56 Kbps in bandwidth, which limits the quality of VoIP services.

Ideally, you will have a broadband connection to the internet, often provided by a cable company, DSL or a T1(E1) line. These kinds of connections usually provide sufficient bandwidth and more than enough to be able to use any VoIP service there is with an acceptable quality. If you wish to use your VoIP phone just like any normal phone, it is best to have an "always-on" broadband connection: one where you do not need to log-in to be connected. If you have a broadband connection, adding a low-cost router or gateway can even turn an internet account that requires log-in into an "always-on" account, as the router or gateway ensures a constant connection.

What's the minimum internet connection speed I need to use VoIP?

A. For the best call clarity, the minimum speed for VoIP phone calls is between 90 kbps (kilobits per second) to 156 kbps at the other end of the VoIP speed spectrum.

Generally speaking, the higher your upload speed (which is really what is meant by your Internet connection speed), the more reliably consistent the quality of your VoIP phone calls will be. Typically, only a broadband Internet connection can provide the minimum bandwidth for VoIP calls.

Each VoIP provider will have different recommendations regarding the minimum bandwidth for VoIP calls using their service. Some VoIP providers have a lower threshold for minimum speed — Vonage notes that it can support VoIP calls made at Internet connection speeds as low as 30 kbps, but recommends a minimum speed of 90 kbps for consistent quality. Popular residential VoIP provider magicJack requires a much higher VoIP speed of 128 kbps.

For more demanding VoIP call types, such as HD calls or video calls, the minimum speed is even higher. For instance, Skype recommends 1.2 mbps as the minimum bandwidth for VoIP HD video calls.

Call TypeRecommended VoIP SpeedVoIP Provider
Low Quality Voice Call30 kbpsVonage
Best Quality Voice Call30 kbpsSkype
Best Quality Voice Call64 kbpsVocalocity
Best Quality Voice Call64 kbpsRingCentral
Best Quality Voice Call90 kbpsVonage
Best Quality Voice Call128 kbpsmagicJack
HD Video Call1.2 mbpsSkype

You can use our VoIP speed test feature to evaluate your Internet connection.

What is an analog telephone adaptor and how does it work?

An analog telephone adapter (ATA) provides an interface that allows you to use a standard telephone to communicate over an IP network such as the Internet. The name "analog telephone adapter" was originated by Cisco for their adaptor and other manufacturers may use slightly different acronyms, but essentially they mean the same thing.

An ATA-type device is a kind of computer that handles all of the tasks related to providing a telephone-line experience while talking over an IP network. This includes providing the dial tone, understanding touch tones, authenticating to the VoIP provider, encoding your voice in a way that allows it to be transmitted over an IP network, decoding IP packets into voice, etc. The ATA-type device will typically have a web server that will allow you to configure the device on your computer.

Depending on whether the device is provided with a service provider (pre-configured) or purchased from somewhere else, that web configuration may or may not be accessible or portions of the configuration may be restricted. Many US based VoIP service providers supply the ATA free of charge if you sign up for a monthly contract.

Please note: A deactivation fee is charged if your service is terminated if you use the VoIP providers service for less than 12 months. Most contracts are on a 30 day termination notice. Others charge you a once off fee (US$80 – US$150) for the ATA.

Acronyms and Definitions

Here we give a brief overview of the the most important VoIP or internet telephony related definitions, terms and acronyms. If you feel we should add further information please contact us.

ATA

Analogue Telephone Adapter. These devices allow you to use standard telephones for VoIP. It is basically a translater between what comes out of your analogue telephone and the digital voice over IP network.

CNG

Comfort Noise Generation. Many VoIP devices offer silence suppression - where rather than using bandwidth to transmit silence, a message is transmitted saying there is no sound. The device at the other end then uses comfort noise generation to create background noise (since when one talks on the phone, and it is silent at the other end, it is generally not absolutely quiet, there is some background noice). Thus, CNG is an attempt to make the silence seem more natural.

DID

Direct Inward Dialling (also referred to as a 'virtual number'). This is a normal phone number on the PSTN (which can be anywhere in the world) that can be called by any phone worldwide, and forwards the call to your VoIP phone. Many VoIP service providers offer direct inward dialling as part of their service, or as an add-on. There are also third party companies that offer direct inward dialling, and will forward the call to your VoIP account no matter which service provider you are with.

DTMF

Dual Tone Multi-Frequency. These are the tones produced by your touch dial telephone when dialling numbers (as opposed to the sequences of clicks that were used in the days of pulse dialling, and is still found on some very old telephones). Interactive telephone menus are able to work because of the fact that DTMF frequencies are standardised - a pair of frequencies is uniquely linked to a number (or # or *) on the telephone keypad. The 'dual tone' part of DTMF refers to the fact that each key-press produces two frequencies depending on the row and column of the key.

e164

e164 offers a method of using your current telephone number as a means of being contacted in the IP world. Your telephone number gets mapped into a DNS zone, and the zone can contain your contact information (VoIP, instant messenger, email, anything). See e164.org for further details.

FWD

Free World Dialup. This is one of the most popular free SIP based VoIP services. It has been around for a few years, and is based on a community effort. See Free World Dialup more information about the service.

FXO

Foreign Exchange Office. The FXO port is what the cord in the back of your telephone comes out of (on the telephone side). Your phone provides an FXO interface to the telephone network.

FXS

Foreign Exchange Subscriber. Subscriber equipment (ie., telephones) plug into FXS ports. For example, the telephone port in the wall, is an FXS port.

H.323

A VoIP protocol that preceeded SIP. Unlike SIP, the H.323 standard specifies the complete voice over IP protocol, and not just the signalling methods.

IAD

Integrated Access Device. All-in-one VoIP adapters that also include a router and possibly an ADSL modem are known as IADs.

NAT

Network Address Translator. Defined in RFC 1631, network address translation allows one public IP address to be shared between a number of devices. This is done by the device with the public address, acting as a gateway between an Internal network (running on private IP addresses - RFC 1918) and making all requests coming from the Internal network appear as though they are coming from the gateway device itself. It is commonly used in home networks.

PABX

Private Automated Branch Exchange. A PABX is as sophisticated piece of equipment which connects an office to the telecommunications network and allows many workers to share only a few telephone lines. Advanced features such as voicemail, hold, transfer, least cost routing and more are also provided by PABXs. A PABX without the sopihisticated features is known as a PBX - a private branch exchange.

POTS

Plain Old Telephone System. The name says it all.

PSTN

Public Switched Telephone Network. The standard telephone network used today.

QoS

Quality of Service. Exactly like it says. It is a way to mark some Internet traffic as being more urgent. For example, one might mark voice traffic as being "important to get there in real time, but if there is a huge delay, just drop the packets", where as downloading emails could have a QoS saying "just get the data when there is unused space on the line to my house". thus if you use both applications, whenever you use VoIP, it will be guaranteed a higher priority than emails. QoS is not implemented on an Internet-wide basis, though there is a lot of hardware that can deal with QoS parameters.

REN

Ringer Equivalence Number. This is a number which defines how much power can be put out be an FXS interface. Every phone/answering machine/modem/fax machine/etc also has a REN which defines how much power it draws through the phone line (eg., to make the phone ring). For example, the REN of the phone socket in the wall, might be 5, and if you have 3 telephones attached, each with a REN of 1, then everything will work. However, if each of those phones have a REN of 2 (making the total REN of the phones 6), this will exceed the REN of your phone line and your phones will no longer work properly due to lack of power.

SIP

Session Initiation Protocol. A protocol allowing a user to 'call' another user on their Internet phone. Think of SIP as a way to call someone, rather than 'dialing' their IP address, you call a phone number which the SIP proxy (the service provider) uses to identify them, and forward them an 'invite' message to the conversation.

A sip line is a protocol used for establishing a communication pathway on an IP network. A SIP line supports communication as simple as a two-way telephone call or a multi-media rich exchange including web video conference, voice-enriched e-commerce, web page click-to-dial, Instant Messaging with buddy lists or an online video game. SIP has become the protocol of choice for signaling communication via VoIP notably when VoIP is used on a mobile phone. SIP’s simple protocol and method of establishing and terminating communication over an IP creates scalability, extendibility, and reliability in multiple coding languages.

SIP is a request and response protocol that is similar to the other main Internet protocols, HTTP and SMTP (the protocols that power the World Wide Web and email); consequently, SIP plays well with other Internet applications. SIP is a simple method that service providers can use to build converged voice and multimedia services.

STUN

Simple Traversal of UDP through NATs. STUN allows SIP devices behind NATs to discover their public IP addresses (that of the gateway), and the type of NAT in use. This is one step in creating a system whereby the VoIP device can be contacted by other Internet telephones.

VAD

Voice activity detection. This feature allows VoIP clients to detect when the person is speaking versus background noise. If the VAD algorithm is not sophisticated enough, and silence suppression is enabled, then some of your voice might get cut off during a conversation.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol. Used to refer to all types of Internet Telephony. It encompasses just about any system that carries voice traffic over the Internet. For home users, it provides the ability to talk to other VoIP users without having to pay standard telephone usage charges (although you still have to pay for your Internet connection!).

SIP and H.323 are the two main standards for VoIP, although SIP is becoming the most popular due to its generic nature, and the fact that unlike H.323, it was designed specifically for wide area Internet Telephony. There are also some custom protocols such as that used by Skype.

Should Your Business Switch to VoIP?

You're at an internet café or at the airport and get an important business call--on your laptop. You're on the road and receive an urgent voice mail--in your e-mail inbox. Your business has a phone number with a New York area code--even though your office is in Texas.

Welcome to the world of VoIP. With a VoIP service, your phone calls travel over the internet as data, just as e-mail does. This type of service can dramatically lower your phone costs while increasing your productivity. It also provides a range useful features and capabilities that conventional phone technology just cannot offer.

Although VoIP is very fast gaining popularity, many small businesses are still on the sidelines, concerned that VoIP audio quality is substandard, that the technology is difficult or costly to implement, or that their phone service will be interrupted if their electricity goes out.

VoIP Benefits


The truth is, VoIP benefits far outweigh any potential drawbacks any many will try to convince you otherwise. Here's what you need to know about VoIP to decide if it's right for your business--plus tips for making the most out of VoIP service.

A. Since its inception, the quality of VoIP services has increased dramatically.

Early VoIP products required both parties in a conversation to be at a computer. Not only was this extremely limiting, but the sound quality was often poor. Today's VoIP service has evolved and allows you to make and receive calls using standard phones or, even better, feature-rich IP phones. Sound quality has vastly improved, too--in fact, many businesses today have abandoned traditional phone systems in favor of VoIP. Many of these businesses have the ability to leverage their own data network to carry phone calls originating and terminating within their office with additional savings and benefits.


B. Using VoIP can significantly reduce your telecommunications costs.

Operating costs for VoIP service providers are significantly lower than for traditional phone companies. These  must contend with the existing, expensive-to-maintain phone infrastructure and costly industry regulations. With lower expenses, VoIP providers can charge far less than their competitors. And with VoIP, businesses no longer have to maintain separate networks for phones and data--another significant money saver. Also, the costs associated with employee moves, adds and changes--which can cost 100 Dollar or more per occurrence--are virtually eliminated. All you have to do is move your IP phone (or traditional phone with a VoIP adapter) to a different broadband network jack and plug it in.

C. VoIP service makes your phone system highly flexible.

VoIP systems allow you to do things that are simply not possible with traditional phone technology. For example, you can:

* Take your phone system with you. As long as you have access to a broadband connection, you can use your VoIP system anywhere, such as in a hotel room or at a friend's home. Customers and employees can stay in touch just by calling your regular business phone number--they don't need to call your cell phone.

* Talk on your laptop. Many VoIP systems include telephony software that enables you to send and receive calls using a headphone / microphone unit connected to your computer. Now you won't miss an urgent call from a client, even when you are rushing through the airport.

* Get voice mail and faxes with your e-mail. Many VoIP services allow you to have voice mail and faxes automatically forwarded to your regular e-mail inbox. You receive all your messages in one place, and your voice mail and faxes can be easily archived or forwarded to others. Users can also get their e-mails "read" to voice mail.

* Get virtual phone numbers. Your phone number can have any available area code, not just the one assigned to your region. For example, a business based in California could have a phone number with a Florida area code--particularly advantageous if your business has (or wants) customers in Florida.

* Increase productivity. Many VoIP phone numbers can be configured to simultaneously ring on multiple devices--such as your cell and landline phones--before going to voice mail, thus eliminating time-consuming "phone tag."

VoIP Tips


With all the benefits VoIP has to offer, if you're now considering a switch to VoIP service, these VoIP tips will help you overcome any potential hurdles and make the most of a new VoIP system:

* When in doubt, hire an expert. An off-the-shelf VoIP system for a business with a few employees is fairly straightforward to implement. But larger VoIP systems may work best if installed and configured by experts. Ask your network equipment vendor about VoIP services tailored for small businesses.

* Test it. Rather than switch everyone at once, test a VoIP service first with just a few users. Once you're satisfied with the service, then you can roll it out to other employees. (You might want to keep your traditional phone system up and running during the transition as a backup.)

* Use call forwarding. If the power goes out, your computer network may go down--taking your VoIP service with it (unless you have a generator or other alternative power source). For backup, configure your VoIP service to automatically forward unanswered calls to a cell or landline number.
 
* Secure your network. VoIP's growing popularity is attracting the attention of hackers, and users are concerned that hackers may digitally intercept VoIP calls or bring down a company's VoIP system using denial-of-service attacks. The solution? Make sure your network security is thorough and up to date.

One thing's for sure: VoIP technology is continually improving and expanding, with compelling new benefits being developed for small businesses. For example, some new wireless PDA/phone combination devices allow you to use your VoIP service whenever you're near a Wi-Fi network and use your cell phone service when you're not. Among the advantages: a dramatic increase in mobility and a sharp decrease in your cell phone charges. For larger small businesses, having a single IP network for both voice and data can provide other advantages, too. For example, an IP network can also support real-time, high-quality, affordable videoconferencing, call center applications and more.

No matter the size of your business, VoIP is a surprisingly flexible, affordable technology that offers the same, sophisticated communication tools your enterprise-size competitors have.

IP Phones

IP stands for Internet protocol. IP Phones allow the user to speak over IP networks such as the Internet or a company intranet. Other common terms for IP Phones could be VoIP Phone, Internet Phone, Web Phone etc.

The good old traditional phone transfers voice through ‘circuit-switching’ technology where the caller and the receiver are connected through a continuous electrical circuit. Here voice transfer is pretty slow because data is transferred as it is in large chunks. There is also the danger of data loss in this system due to frequent reception problems in case of long distance calls.

The IP Phone transfers voice through ‘packet-switching’ technology where an analog voice signal is converted into a digital format and is broken up into very small data packets. These packets are then sent individually across the Internet and reassembled in serial order at the destination and converted back into voice. Voice is transferred much faster as the data is broken into very minute parts; but there is still a danger of data loss.

A further advantage is that since the data is compressed into tiny packets the space used by a traditional phone for one call can be used to accommodate numerous calls, up to eight times more calls, without compromising on the voice reception quality.

IP Phones also offer a range of additional features which are impossible with traditional phones. Traditional phones have natural geographical constraints but IP Phones can be used anywhere in the world as long as you are connected to the Internet. All the call receiver needs is a regular phone; there’s no need for an IP Phone or even Internet connection to receive the phone call.

IP Phones can also integrate with other Internet-based services such as video and text chatting, file exchange and can be used simultaneously with these services.

Major reasons for the growing popularity of IP phones is the flexibility and comfort they offer, not to mention the substantially lower costs. The only expenditure required is for installation of IP hardware and possibly software and it is a once off expense. All the calls are considered absolutely free in the sense that the user pays only for the Internet services; no extra payment is required for the call, provided the call is made to another IP phone. One still has to pay the IP provider to terminate calls to the traditional network, but long distance calls and intenational calls are now much cheaper.

One disadvantage is that some types of IP Phones may not be able to penetrate certain firewalls. Also, IP Phone hardware, working on the domestic power supply, requires the back up support of generator or UPS in case of power disruption; otherwise the connection is severed the moment power goes down.

What are virtual or hosted PBX systems?

Conventionally, the mention of the words ‘PBX phone systems’ brings about an image of expensive equipments, miles of entangled wires, and complex connections. For a large corporation having large number of employees, managing the PBX system requires lot of expertise. A company has to maintain dedicated staff for these specific tasks. Additionally, the system has to be updated periodically to meet the ever increasing needs of the growing company. A company can avoid this constant upgrades and maintenance tasks by switching over to a hosted PBX system.

A hosted PBX system operates in a virtual environment. There is no need for purchasing and installing any PBX equipments. A company simply has to subscribe with a hosted PBX service provider. All the functionalities of a standard PBX system are delivered to the company through a dedicated telephone or high bandwidth Internet connection. The company is therefore relieved from the trouble of constantly updating its PBX systems. The equipments are maintained and upgraded at the service provider’s location. Any new kind of functionality that is developed by a service provider is instantly made available to the company.

A hosted PBX system is shared among numerous users. Hence the cost that comes down to each client is far less than that incurred through a premise based PBX system. Apart from the cost benefits, a company can get all the advanced features which originally only large companies could boast of. Some of the advanced features include voice to email service (Voice Mail), fax to email service (fax mail), virtual numbers, local phone numbers of any specified area codes, toll free numbers, fax numbers, automated attendant, fax on demand, find me/ follow me, combined fax and voice mailbox, and quality answering service. All these features are made available at affordable monthly rates.

A PBX Phone system in a virtual environment helps a company to maintain a certain kind of physical independence. Through a hosted PBX system, a company can get local numbers of certain area codes. These local numbers give a local presence for the company without it being physically present in the region. The find-me/follow-me feature is useful for good client/customer interaction, since the customer service professionals of the company can always be contacted irrespective of their current location. A company having numerous satellite offices can appear to function from a single location using central local or toll free numbers. Calls to these numbers are routed automatically to the appropriate recipients by the system. A hosted PBX system thus gives a small company a big company image through the loads of features and virtual setting.

VoIP service provider selection strategy

There are various basic selection strategies to choose the best VoIP service provider tailored to your needs.

  1. If you live in a country with fierce competiiton between Broadband or VoIP service providers, such as the UK, Germany, Canada or the USA and you only make local or national calls then it is fairly easy. Use our database to choose the cheapest monthly package, which suits your calling needs. This could be either a Pay-as-you-go package or a package with 250, 500, 1000 minutes or unlimited calls per month. The differences in price are not that big, making the selection process a little difficult because of the wide variety of options.

    Check to see that the 911 service is offered and even LNP (Local Number Portability), letting you keep you existing telephone number. Most US Broadband VoIP providers offer a free ATA when you sign up, but check the fine print. Some charge you a high cancellation fee if you have not subscribed to their service for 12 months or more. Others let you bring your own device (BYOD). This gives you the flexibilty to change VoIP providers if you are not satisfied with a particular service.

    Maybe even choose a VoIP provider with a special offer (first month or even two months for free) to test their service for a month before taking the final decision.

  2. If you live in a fiercely competitive country and tend make quite a number of international calls then you would have to change your selection criteria. Make a list of international destinations you call most frequently and check to see if any VoIP service provider has a monthly package, which includes these countries. A few VoIP providers offer package deals with a selection of 20, 30 or 40 countries and destinations included. This may become a little pricey, so again think about the amount of calls you make on a regular basis.

    Should you only make calls to a one or two international destinations then the selection process becomes far more simple. Use our VoIP search engine to find the broadband provider with the cheapest call rates to a certain country, check their packages and sign up.

  3. If you live in a country with very limited competition or even Telecom monopolies then you may want to choose a PC to Phone provider, such as Skype (not the cheapest, but the best known), Stanaphone, VoIP Buster, Globe7 and others. There are hundreds of VoIP companies out in the international market and making your choice is quite difficult. Again draw up a list of international destinations you call most frequently and if you wish test the cheapest to see if they are up to your expectations.

There are various other options to consider, depending on which country you live in.
You may want to choose a provider offering a virtual number in a certain country. This would allow you to publish and use this number although you may be thousands of miles away. For example if you have a virtual number in Switzerland your customers and friends can call this number in Switzerland and your phone will ring wherever you are in the world. This is a very interesting feature and only possible with VoIP services.

If you make regular conference calls, then you must ensure that your VoIP Provider offers this facility.

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