With a VoIP phone service, you can use the telephones you already have, get all the same features plus some additional ones, and still pay less per month.
Other Internet phone services may be free or cost less, but you have to make phone calls through your computer, set up software, buy telephone numbers or follow complicated procedures.
A VoIP phone service provider sends you a small electronic adapter. You plug in a cable from your router and your phone and hear a dial tone, just like before. The only difference is that your calls go through the Internet rather than through the phone company’s wires. That said, there are some disadvantages as well. The FCC has a good overview of VoIP in their FAQ section on the subject.
How VoIP Phone Works
When you use plain old telephone service (POTS) for your Home Phone, the telephone turns your voice into a signal that travels through the phone company wires to the person that you’re calling. The phone at the other end turns the signal back into sound through the speaker in the receiver.
POTS gets the power to transmit the signal through the telephone wire. The telephone number depends on where you are. If you take your POTS phone somewhere else and plug it into a telephone jack, it will have a different number.
VoIP phones work differently. The telephone is the same but you connect it to the Internet through the VoIP service adapter. The adapter changes your voice signal into digital data packets that it sends through Internet. At the other end, a similar adapter collects all the data packets and reassembles them into a telephone signal.
Since the service providers don’t have to build and maintain their own telephone network, they can offer the service at a much lower cost. Knowing how VoIP works and how it differs from POTS helps you understand how the features work and why there are disadvantages.
VoIP Phone Features
All the features that you can get for a POTS phone are available for a VoIP telephone but they are usually included in the monthly fee. That’s because the Internet servers that handle the calls can record and display such features at negligible cost. Typical features include voice mail, call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding, call return, conference calls and speed dialing. The TopTenReviews website has an evaluation of some VoIP service providers with lists of features and ratings. Most providers also allow free calling in the U.S. and Canada and charge low rates to other countries.
One of the disadvantages of VoIP phones is that the call quality depends on the speed of the Internet connection. Because the data packets making up your call travel over the Internet, if there is a slow down somewhere or a server doesn’t transmit information quickly enough, some packets may be delayed.
The result is poor sound quality, a bit like a bad cellphone connection. The other factor influencing call quality is the speed of your own Internet connection. If you have a slow broadband connection, you may notice a slight delay as the voices are transmitted over the Internet
An additional feature available from VoIP phones is that you can choose your area code. Since you can link your phone to the Internet wherever there is a connection, the service is independent of your location. As a result, you can use a phone number with an area code from another city.
This is especially convenient if you have friends or family far away. You can get a number with their area code and they can make local calls to talk with you. Some services let you have additional telephone numbers to take advantage of this feature. Others let you add a toll-free number that lets anyone call you without long distance charges.
Some subscribers see a major disadvantage in VoIP phones because they don’t reliably work with 911 emergency calls. While you can call 911 on these phones just like from a POTS phone, the caller ID often doesn’t give the correct location. Emergency services know the location of the phone making a call with POTS because the phone number has a fixed location at the end of a physical telephone wire. There is no such wire for the VoIP telephone system, so the emergency services don’t know where the call came from. Often, you have to give your address and directions.
The authorities have addressed this issue by requiring VoIP service providers to ask for your address when you subscribe to the service. This method relies on the service provider informing the emergency services and your keeping the phone at the address you gave. Even with these measures, the 911 service through VoIP is not as reliable as POTS. Digital Landing has a detailed discussion of the problems with VoIP and mobile 911 calls.
One other disadvantage of VoIP phones is that they rely on your router and Internet connection to make calls. POTS gets its power through the telephone lines, so it often still works when you have a power failure. Without power, your router can’t transmit the VoIP signal.
If your broadband connection or Internet service in your area is down, the VoIP phone system won’t work either. Most people have a basic land line or cell phone to act as backup if the VoIP phone doesn’t work.
VoIP phones are relatively new technology that can save you money with a service comparable to a land line, but with some extra features and some disadvantages. For the same amount as you’re spending now, you can get VoIP service and maintain a basic backup to address the disadvantages. That way, you spend the same amount, but get an improved overall service.