Voice over Internet Protocol, also called internet phone, has come of age as a reliable and cost-effective way to call around town or across the world. Many cable companies that offer bundled phone with internet or television are using this technology, but there are independent companies that will provide this service with extra features and terrific rates.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology converts voice communications into digital data that transmits over the internet or a packet-switched network. In layman's terms, VoIP allows you to make telephone calls using a high-speed internet connection instead of a traditional analog phone line.
The way calls are routed may be different with VoIP, but you still use your existing phone equipment as you would with a regular telephone line. Most VoIP services provide a phone adapter that connects your existing home phone with the internet. You simply plug in the adapter to your home internet network and home phone and start dialing. Most services give you the option of a softphone, which simply means using your computer as a phone. Thanks to Skype, most people are familiar with this method. Most companies offer an app for your mobile phone or smart tablet that lets you place calls using their service as long as the mobile device is connected to the internet.
While the technology may seem complicated, internet phone service is becoming an increasingly reliable and popular alternative for homes and businesses. VoIP phone systems can provide significant cost savings over a conventional phone system with lower monthly fees and cheaper long distance and international rates. VoIP users are also privy to numerous calling features, ones that typically cost extra with regular phone services. Since most VoIP services cater to businesses as well as residences, they work very well for home offices as well. Since you can use the phones you already have, setup costs are minimal.
If you are in the market for a VoIP system, we encourage you to read our articles about VoIP services, as well as our comprehensive reviews and side-by-side comparison of the best VoIP services, particularly our top three: Voip.com, Phone Power and Phone.com.
Knowing how Voice over IP services vary as far as service plans and features will help you choose the service that can best meet your needs. Each VoIP provider prices its plans according to greatly varying criteria—from minutes to allowed countries to whether or not you sign a long-term contract. Therefore, we chose a common breaking point of $25 a month, compared the best plans for that price and then considered the following criteria.
The service plans a VoIP provider offers and how much it charges for those plans will be a major deciding factor when you choose a service. Many VoIP providers offer cheaper rates if you agree to an annual or 2-year plan, but charge hefty cancellation fees if you choose to stop service before your contract expires. Month-to-month plans are somewhat more expensive but give you the option to change service.
One advantage of VoIP is cheaper long-distance and international calling, so if that's important to you, look closely at the fine print on these features. Many services offer unlimited international minutes; others choose select nations. Some services let you choose your own area code, so that if you are away from family or friends, you can choose a number in their area so that their calls to you are local as well as yours to them.
Of course, if you want to use your computer as your phone (called a softphone) or use the internet phone service for a home business as well, you'll find services in our reviews to accommodate that.
Every Voice over IP service we reviewed has the following features:
* Long Distance
* Free Calls In-Network (calls to others using the same service do not count toward your minutes)
* Keep Your Current Number
* Caller ID
* Call Waiting
* Call Forwarding
* Online Account Management
You'll also find that the top providers have most of the same features in common; however, some charge for certain options, either as a monthly fee or a by-call charge. Also, check our reviews for standout features that make a particular service unique.
These four features aren't always the most important for homes, but they definitely set the services apart.
Mobile apps let you use your VoIP service on your cell phone or tablet as long as it has internet connection. A second free line lets you have two phone lines working off the same service. Although these share the same phone number, it lets you make or receive calls on one phone while someone else in the home is using another.
If you have a home business, you might want a toll-free or virtual phone number. Most of the companies we reviewed charge extra for these, so if they are important to you, find services that include them.
Help & Support
One of the biggest concerns about VoIP calling is not being happy with the service, either because of the reliability of the calls, billing issues or inability to get good customer support. We've looked over customer ratings sites and complaint sites to determine the best and worst as far as support quality and customer satisfaction. We've also tested the products for ease of installation.
An easy setup doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t encounter issues or have questions when using your VoIP system. Thus, first-class help and support options are necessary. Voice over IP services should provide live customer support via telephone and email, as well as standalone documentation online, such as FAQs and a knowledgebase that you can reference as needed.
Voice over IP offers a more affordable and feature-rich alternative to a traditional phone line. Whether you are looking to cut costs or get more from your phone service, VoIP presents a viable solution for your telecommunications needs.