What is Voice Over IP (VoIP) and Do I Need It?

What is VoIP?

Man on a phone and a laptop.“VoIP” stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol” and is fairly self-explanatory. Basically, VoIP is a means of converting analog audio signals (your voice) into digital data that can be transferred over the Internet. In other words, you can make a phone call using your personal computer’s (PC) internet connection rather than your land-line or cell phone.

When many people think of VoIP they instantly think of services like Vonage or MagicJack. These are businesses that want to become your full feature telephony solution. Although these companies are VoIP services, the term can be used to describe something much simpler. We will first take a look at the simplest form of VoIP then take a look at services such as Vonage

Getting Started

Looking at the basic definition of VoIP again, we can see that we only need to be able to capture the audio and transmit it digitally in order to have VoIP. This can be done without subscribing to a service and without a specialized telephone or other equipment. Basic VoIP can be accomplished by a PC connected to the internet with a soundcard sporting a microphone and speakers. Keeping that in mind, let us look at the basic ways people implement VoIP.

The previous paragraph described the PC to PC version of VoIP. With a fairly typical computer connected to broadband internet, and some kind of software for managing the communications, anyone can be up and running with a basic version of VoIP that may be totally free. There are many different software packages available for free download, including popular ones like:

  • Skype
  • Yahoo Messenger

Most of these solutions also offer video calling as well (which we’ll review later).  For now, let’s focus on  one of the most popular VoIP programs; Skype.

Skype allows members to make free PC to PC calls, including video calls, regardless of distance, and for an extra fee they can send/receive calls from standard telephones. Remember, services like these only work when your computer is turned on.  So if you want someone to be able to reach you, you have to keep your computer turned on 24 hours a day.

Cordless Internet Telephones

If you plan on spending a lot of time talking on the phone, for business or personal reasons, using packages like Skype or one of the other  packages listed above we strongly recommend you invest in a headset microphone. You’ll soon find that talking into a microphone and listening on your computer speakers is pretty inconvenient.

If you like the traditional feel of a telephone then we recommend purchasing a USB or cordless phone designed to work for VoIP.  Using a USB VoIP phone not only makes the communication seem a bit more traditional, but it also frees up the soundcard for typical audio applications (MP3s, games, etc), while the phones circuitry handles all audio processing for phone calls. This will allow you to talk to your friends and family while playing music or games in the background.

ATA

Using an ATA, or Analog Telephone Adaptor, is the other common form of VoIP in use today. With an ATA, a standard telephone can be plugged into the adapter just as you would plug it into a phone jack in the wall. The ATA is then connected to your network, or directly to your broadband internet gateway, in order to convert the analog audio into digital data for transmission over the internet.

Vonage and other similar services use ATAs to implement VoIP. It’s a simple approach for people who wish to continue using their existing phone equipment. Also, it allows a home pre-wired for multiple phone jacks to continue operating as is, with the only new piece of hardware required being the ATA.

Services such as Vonage do come with monthly bills and are not free like Instant Messengers or Skype. However, they offer extremely good value for your money compared to traditional landlines.  If you don’t want to keep your computer on 24 hours a day this might be your best solution.

If you have any questions about VoIP or need guidance on which VoIP solution is best for your needs, call us at 1-888-863-3033 or email us at help@computergeeks2go.com and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

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