VoIP Explained

VoIP, or, to give it its full title, “Voice over Internet Protocol”, is, as the name suggests, a technology that allows voice telephone calls to made across the Internet, via a broadband connection, rather than via a conventional, analogue telephone line.

How VoIP Works

VoIP works by converting analogue sound waves – the caller’s voice – into a digital signal, which then traverses the Internet, and is converted back into analogue sound, which the recipient can hear, before it reaches its destination. VoIP calls can be made from a computer, equipped with free, downloadable software, and a specially designed VoIP handset, or indeed, from a conventional telephone handset, equipped with an adaptor.

Previously some VoIP services only offered connection only to other users of that same service, but the growth, and uptake, of services means that local, or long distance, calls to a telephone of any kind, are already a very real possibility. Competition is only likely to increase in the coming months, and years, such that a wide choice of new, and improved, services – including mobile options – at lower prices, is likely to become available.

VoIP Equipment & Services

Many VoIP providers distribute free, downloadable software, which allows VoIP calls to be made directly from a computer, using an existing microphone. A slightly more sophisticated method, and one which will improve sound quality, is to use a VoIP handset, or call-centre style headset, which plugs into the USB port of a computer. The obvious limitation of VoIP from a computer, however, is that if there is a power failure, or even if a computer is simply switched off, outgoing calls cannot be made and incoming calls cannot be detected. Another possibility, therefore, is an adaptor, which allows a standard telephone handset to be plugged into a broadband connection.

VoIP service providers include Vonage, which offers unlimited, free calls – domestic and / or international – to both Vonage and normal phone users for a set monthly fee along with a “bandwidth saver” feature, allowing users to adjust the sound quality, and therefore the bandwidth requirement, of any given call. BT also offer VoIP through their home hub which comes with their BT Total Broadband package and through BT Fusion, which offers various packages utilising VoIP, via the domestic ADSL service.


VoIP technology – including desirable features, such as facilities for call forwarding, and voice mail, amongst others – generally offers functionality at a reduced cost, compared to a traditional “Private Branch eXchange”, or PBX, solution. Unlimited local, and international calls are available, at a fraction of the cost of traditional telephone services, while the ability to dial from any broadband connection, and to choose a telephone number regardless of location, are other major selling points.

However, do bear in mind that a VoIP telephone number – which may be needed to access a full range of VoIP services – is unlikely to be included in most telephone directories, and that a VoIP phone, itself, will not work during a power failure. Consider, too, the quality, and reliability, of the telephone service that you require; voice and data communication on the same network, as is the case with VoIP, can create bandwith issues.

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