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 international 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.