Internet phone service or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connects your telephone calls through the Internet instead of using private telephone company networks. The service converts your voice into data packets and sends them to the person you are calling. The Internet phone software then puts the data back together to produce the sound of your voice.
Since you are already paying for Internet service, using it for your Home Phone costs very little. There is a small cost for the use of the telephone numbers and the telephone software, but long distance is free or low-cost, and the monthly fee includes features such as voicemail, call waiting and caller ID.
To sign up for Internet phone service, you must have broadband Internet service. Since the calls depend on all the data packets getting through quickly, you need a fast Internet connection. A computer is useful for setting up the service and using some of the features, but many suppliers offer Internet phone service through a self-contained unit that they supply that doesn’t need a computer.
When you sign up for VoIP, most service providers send you a small unit with two sockets. One is for a regular computer network cable that plugs into your broadband service and the other is a phone plug that connects to your regular telephone. If you’re using your computer with the service, you have to follow the service provider’s instructions on how to connect it, usually by plugging the VoIP unit into your router.
The VoIP unit makes the Internet work just like a phone network. When you pick up your phone, you will hear a dial tone and you can dial the number just like with a regular Home Phone service.
Internet Phone Service Providers
Many companies offer VoIP service, but prices and the level of support vary widely. Watch out for high cancellation fees on some of the services, though.
Most providers offer similar services and features, but some need a computer for their service and some charge setup fees. You may want to try a service provider that offers free setup and a month-to-month contract first. That will allow you to try out VoIP and make sure it meets your needs.
A regular telephone has a specific location and area code because the telephone number is linked to the line where you plug in the phone. The telephone number for a VoIP phone is programmed into the service and the VoIP unit, and you can plug it into the Internet anywhere. This means that the VoIP phone can have any area code you want because it does not have a specific place.
You can transfer your existing telephone number to the new service, but then you are not taking full advantage of the area code feature. While you may want to keep your existing number, you can ask your provider to add extra telephone numbers with different area codes to your service. This means that, if you live in New York and have family in Los Angeles, you can get a telephone number with a Los Angeles area code and your family can call you by making a local call without long distance charges.
Emergency 911 on Internet Phone Service
With traditional phone service, emergency services look up the caller ID of the party making the 911 call and they get the address where the emergency happened. Since Internet phone service doesn’t have a specific location, a 911 call made from an Internet phone does not give the emergency services a reliable location. They may, for example, be looking at the Los Angeles area code of a New York resident.
Many service providers address this problem by asking you for the location of the phone when you sign up and programming the location into the system. They also require you to keep them informed if you move the phone. For Home Phone service, this system works as long as you don’t move, but it is not as automatic and reliable as for a traditional Home Phone Service.
The voice transmission quality of VoIP telephone calls is constantly improving, but there are limitations to the data packet system. The data packets going through the Internet take a bit of time to get to the other end, and there is a slight delay while they are assembled to re-create your voice. One or more packets may have a delay or a packet may get lost completely.
When the VoIP system is missing some data packets when it converts them back to your voice, your voice sounds hoarse and may have gaps in the words, similar to a bad cell phone connection. Even with a good connection, there is a time lag of about half a second in the transmission of your voice because of the voice-to-data-to-voice conversion. This delay irritates some people, but others hardly notice it.
Choosing a Service
Transitioning from Home Phone service to Internet phone service is one option. We list six reasons why keeping your Home Phone service is still a good idea. One strategy is to try out a service without transferring your home phone number and check if the quality is acceptable and what your cost savings would be. Another reason to keep in mind is that the VoIP service depends on the Internet. If the Internet is down, so is the phone.