For transnationals, international business people, and other frequent phoners, you may not yet know what the acronym stands for, but we promise it spells good news. VoIP, which stands for Voice-over-Internet Protocol, is an internet-based telecommunications system that is making international and national calling more affordable than ever. Whether you're calling London, New York, or Mumbai, a dedicated VoIP line can make those calls nearly free - and sometimes calls are actually free. Drawbacks include all of the frustrations you may already experience with your internet provider like delays and poor connectivity. However, if you already have a mobile, a VoIP line provides an economic option as a landline.
Now there's no excuse for not calling your mother.
Skype and Other Providers
- Skype is an Internet service that allows users to make traditional telephone calls via computer. Unlike most of its VoIP competitors, Skype uses a genuinely decentralised, peer-to-peer system. Skype also offers a paid service that allows subscribers to make calls to and receive calls from traditional phone users. The latest version of Skype (Skype 2) offers video-over-IP service as well.
- Gizmo is a similar, albeit less famous, program. However, unlike Skype, Gizmo automatically encrypts peer-to-peer calls and offers additional product services for a fee. Also, unlike Skype, calling regular phone users is free. Recently, Gizmo also announced that Gizmo to Gizmo calls anywhere in the world are completely free. Skype, Gizmo and other PC-to-PC services are free (or very cheap), but do require users purchase their means of communications.
- Bluetooth : For professionals who need to move around the office or busy bodies who won't sit still at home, a Bluetooth Headset may be a wise investment. However, if you're just looking to relax and make some calls, consider a conventional wired headset instead. Unless you need to pace around the room, a regular headset will be cheaper and have better sound quality.
- Wired Headsets : Wired headsets are cheap and give an accurate representation of your connection's sound quality. Keep in mind that for any VoIP program, you need a PC headset , not one designed for cell phone use. The PC headsets have two plugs: one for a microphone and one for headphones.
- USB headsets : These plug into your computer's USB port. For Mac users, the audio-in jack on your Mac is likely a line-in jack, not a microphone-level input, which can make using VoIP applications taxing. Consider getting a Griffin iMic adapter to solve the problem, or simply purchase a USB headset .
Phones specifically made for VoIP software are available. They are fairly similar to regular phones in use today but are designed to connect with a computer with a broadband connection rather than a traditional phonejack.
Vonage and Other ISPs
In addition to software like Gizmo and Skype, there are a host of VoIP providers who operate under more traditional phone service models, but do so with a user's broadband connection. These services generally provide hardware that a user hooks up to their broadband router. The user can then treat that hardware like a traditional phone, with the added bonus of being able to move it to any other high-speed connection. Vonage is the biggest of these providers. Because of its aggressive campaign and available resources, Vonage has become a legitimate threat to telecommunications companies in Canada, the United State and Europe. Though Vonage provides a phone for its subscribers, there are plenty of exciting and interesting models for purchase.
Vonage is not without competitors. Packet8 offers similar service for less. Packet8 service also allows for enhanced 999/112 support, something that has been a thorn in the side of VoIP providers looking to whisk users away from their traditional service. Unfortunately, most reviews claim that the sound quality is not on par with Vonage when Internet traffic gets heavy. BroadVoice is another well-known commercial VoIP provider. It won Wired Magazines 2005 VoIP service award.'
- Emergency Calling Support: The primary drawback to dropping your traditional phone service in favour of VoIP is a big one: VoIP providers, with the exception of Packet8, are yet to make significant strides with Emergency 999/112 calling. Currently, most providers send calls to off-site call centers. However, in order for the service to work, most VoIP providers require users to register their address. Another serious concern is in the case of emergencies during blackouts that could potentially knock out Internet service and thus, interrupt the ability of users to make calls at a time when having communications contact available is most important.
- Data Security: Data security is a more abstract, but very real, concern. Currently, most VoIP services are not sufficiently encrypted. However, there is software currently available on the market that enables providers to encrypt their users' calls. Whether providers take these companies up on their offer is still up in the air.
- Sound Quality: On a more practical level, VoIP service simply doesn't sound as good as your trusty land line. It is prone to latency and interruption when Internet traffic is heavy and forget about uploading sizable content online while using the phone. Performance will likely improve over time, but for now, making a free call over your computer to Peru may prove a less manageable experience than over a dedicated line. Still, if you have a functional cell phone and are tired of paying too much for those calls to China, go with VoIP.