Everyone seems to be talking about VoIP these days. People know that it is a value added cheaper alternative to traditional phone services, but there are a lot of gray areas in the mind of potential users, and even established ones. There are a number of VoIP frequently asked questions that people have and below is an attempt to answer some of the most common VoIP FAQs.

What is VoIP?

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. With a computer, internet connection and a subscription to a VoIP service, anyone can make phone calls over the internet.

What kind of internet connection is needed for VoIP?

A broadband internet connection is needed for VoIP. For home users a DSL or Cable connection is adequate. For business users with heavy traffic, a T1 or higher level of connectivity is recommended.

Will VoIP work with wireless broadband?

Yes, it will work with any type of broadband. However, connectivity and bandwidth fluctuations can happen with wireless connections and these could affect call clarity.

Is VoIP call quality as good as what telephone companies offer?

Yes it is. Connection issues can affect call quality, but the same applies to landlines and cell phones.

What does a VoIP service provider do?

A VoIP service provider is like a telephone company – it will accept your call and carry the signal to the person you are calling. There are two types of service providers – those that offer phone based services and those that offer computer based ones. Check out both the options and see which type matches your needs best. Costs are comparable and a variety of service packages are available.

How much do VoIP service providers charge?

Both free (computer based) and paid for VoIP services are available. The free services offer only basic facilities and extra and additional features will need to be paid for, but are still significantly lower priced than traditional telephony.

Are the free basic VoIP services enough for me?

For a home user the free services are the best starting point. As and when the need for additional services is felt, upgrading the service package is easy. This way you do not get stuck paying for services you do not use.

What else do I have to pay for VoIP calls?

There is nothing else. The traffic is carried over the internet and is covered by your monthly subscription you pay your Internet Service Provider.

What kind of savings does VoIP offer over landlines and cell phones?

This is a difficult figure to precisely estimate. If you are using a free VoIP service, all your call costs are covered by you internet subscription so they are basically free. Even a paid service will cost you less per call than a landline or cell phone. There are no reduced charge timings to look for to save money and no per minute charges for long distance. In fact distance makes no difference to VoIP – a call next door or to Nigeria are the same. For the normal home user a saving of at least 50 to 60% on the monthly phone bill can be expected. For business users who can opt for heavy traffic packages from VoIP service providers, the saving could exceed 75%. Obviously, the higher the use, the greater the savings.

What extra investment will I have to make to use VoIP?

You need a computer, broadband connection, microphone, and headphones or speakers. That’s all. If you need to buy the mike or headphones, they are not expensive. But make sure you buy good quality – low grade mikes and headphones can distort sound. Headphones are usually the better option because with speakers feedback into the mike could cause whistling and echo problems. Alternatively, you could go in for a VoIP phone which works just like the traditional instrument but offers a comforting familiarity in using the standard handset. Prices of VoIP phones vary, but a good one can be acquired quite cheaply.

How difficult is it to set up VoIP on my computer?

Not difficult at all. In most cases you only need to download the software and click the install button. Everything is done automatically. The microphone and speakers / headset have to be connected into the right sockets on your computer; or if using a VoIP phone, there will be a cable and adapter that connects easily to your broadband router. If the phone needs software to be installed, it will be on a CD that comes with the phone and once again, just clicking the install button is all you need to do. A VoIP connection can be set up in a matter of minutes, even by someone with little knowledge of computers or the internet.

Can I use my computer while using VoIP?

Yes. VoIP does not affect computer functioning or the ability to download and upload data to the internet. If problems do occur, it is a sign of a hardware or software problem and the VoIP service provider or VoIP phone manufacturer should be contacted.

How easy is VoIP to use?

Extremely easy. Most VoIP service providers have user friendly screens and menus where everything can be done by pressing a few buttons. Creating a directory of all your contacts may take a few minutes.

Do I need a computer to make and receive VoIP calls?

No you do not. An adapter can connect an existing phone to the internet or you could go in for a stand alone VoIP phone. Of course, the displays and menus available on a computer monitor makes it easier to manage calls conference calls and additional features a VoIP service provider may offer, but for basic calls, you can do without a computer.

How good is VoIP sound quality?

Usually very good – often better than landlines. But bandwidth fluctuations can affect call quality in the same way that cable problems affect landline calls or interference affects cell phones.

Can I make calls to / receive calls from landlines and cell phones?

Yes you can. The procedure may vary according to the VoIP service provider, but connectivity to landlines and cell phones is not a problem. However, when making calls to landlines and cell phones an extra charge is usually levied by the telephone company or cell phone service provider. These will have to be paid by you, but the cost is far less than if you had made the call from a landline or cell phone.

What happens if there is a power outage?

Landlines have an independent power source and are not dependent on your home or office electricity. Cell phones run on batteries. But VoIP depends on your computer functioning and with no power VoIP is not functional. If you anticipate that this will be a problem for you, it may be worthwhile to invest in a backup power supply.

Can VoIP completely replace my landline connection?

Yes. VoIP can replace your existing telecom connection and can even use the existing internal wiring to have instruments in different locations in the home or office. Care should be taken to ensure that the previous connection is physically disconnected at the point where it enters your office or home because a power surge through that line can damage your computers and phones.

Can I make emergency calls with VoIP?

Recent FCC rulings make it mandatory for VoIP service providers to include 911 calls as part of their service. Ask you service provider to ensure that your correct address is registered.

Will my alarm system work with VoIP?

Maybe, but there’s no guarantee. Many types of alarm company equipment does not integrate properly with VoIP signals. Check with your alarm system provider. And if there is a power outage and no backup power supply, VoIP will not work.

Can I use VoIP for my office credit card machine?

Sorry, you can’t. These machines use a dial up modern and will not work with VoIP. For your credit card machine you will have to retain a landline. Some of the newer machines are capable of working in broadband, but these are hard to come by and their reliability is still open to question.

How secure are VoIP calls?

Instances of security breaches on VoIP calls have been very few. An encryption feature has recently been introduced and this will further improve security.

Can I keep my old phone number?

Most VoIP service providers allow number portability and it should be possible to retain your old phone number. Check with the service provider.

What happens if my broadband connection fails?

There is a feature called “call forwarding on non-registration” that will take care of this problem. It works like normal call forwarding and automatically kicks in if your VoIP service provider is unable to connect to you. Your call will be forwarded to a predetermined landline or cell phone number.

Can I use VoIP for fax transmission?

Yes you can. Check with the service provider to see if there are any extra charges.

Can I get a toll free VoIP number for my business?

Yes. Toll free numbers are available at a fixed monthly charge.

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