VoIP refers to voice transmissions that are sent over an Internet connection, rather than over land lines as with traditional phone service or via cellphone towers. VoIP requires a computer or a Wifi or other internet connection to work. The voice signal is converted from analog audio to a compressed digital format, then converted back to analog on the other end. These services are often much cheaper than other phone services.
There are several different ways VoIP can be used. VoIP technology can use a dedicated VoIP phone or an analog telephone adapter, or it can use special software. VoIP phones work much like cellphones, but transmit their signals via Wifi or other IP connections. Service plans for the phones can be purchased, and because they are usually billed by the data transmission instead of minutes, plans are often much cheaper than comparable mobile phone or traditional phone plans. Many services offer a flat rate fee, and some offer free services. These may vary widely by the provider, but in general, VoIP services are much cheaper than land lines or cell phones due to the lower cost of transmitting via IP.
Some VoIP providers provide free calls to other lines which are also using their plan. They often offer an inexpensive flat rate plan for other domestic calls, which may be unlimited. You can call other lines using VoIP, or you can call cellphones and landlines. Service plans may also include rates for international calls.
More than one call can use the same internet connection, so VoIP may eliminate a business’s need for additional phone lines, which often cost more from the phone company. VoIP software can be used in any location, provided that there is a suitable internet connection, so they also are not tied to a certain location like landlines are. They also eliminate the need for separate lines for phones and data transmission, so they can cut business costs by using lines that are already installed.
Some VoIP providers provide many additional features free of charge, or for a low fee. These may include call forwarding or caller ID, which often cost more if you get them from a traditional phone service. Because they use the internet to place calls, some Internet phone or “softphone” software may also be able to integrate other features available through the internet, such as making video conferencing calls or exchanging messages or files.
There are some disadvantages to VoIP, however. The services may not connect directly to 911 and other emergency services, making them less reliable than other services in the event of an emergency. They rely on the power of the modem, so they may not function during a power outage unless there is a backup power supply available from the provider. The lines have a maximum data capacity, so if they are overloaded, the quality of the transmission may suffer. Congestion can also cause “jitter” and delay, which can result in sound distortion or dropouts.