A Voice over Internet Protocol telephone system converts the sound of your voice into data signals sent through the Internet. To do this, you need a computer, digital handset or other device to make a VoIP call plus a service to make the call compatible with standard telephones. Because this technology bypasses traditional phone service, it provides several advantages, including significant cost savings for long-distance calls.
Depending on the calling plan, local telephone companies charge extra for long-distance and international calls, and the longer you talk, the more it costs. Because VoIP calls use your broadband data connection and not the standard voice line, the main cost that remains is your Internet service. With services such as Ooma, you pay a one-time charge for equipment but do not pay a monthly fee for phone service. Other companies charge a monthly fee but do not require you to purchase equipment. You can often talk as long as you want with someone in another state or around the world.
A broadband Internet connection supports video calls using a service such as Skype. The VoIP service sends live video from both parties along with the audio of your conversation. You can use an inexpensive webcam for video or use the camera that comes with many computer monitors and laptop computer screens.
Compatible with Traditional Service
Many VoIP services are compatible with regular phone calls, so you can make and receive calls with others who have a traditional land line or cell phone. The VoIP company acts as a "bridge" between Internet calls and those made over the standard telephone system.
In many cases, you already have most or all of the equipment you need for home VoIP service. Your desktop or notebook computer can make VoIP calls, as can many Internet-enabled smartphones. The service works with your existing Internet router and broadband modem. If you prefer a traditional handset telephone, you can purchase an inexpensive digital version or an adapter for your existing analog phone.
Though features vary among VoIP companies, many offer those you expect from a modern telephone service, such as 411, enhanced 911, caller ID, voice mail, conference calls and call forwarding. Some services offer a "call hunt" function that rings several different phones in succession until you pick up, which reduces missed calls. The VoIP system can send you alerts by email when you receive voice mail messages; clicking a link in the email plays the voice message.
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