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What Is Voice Over IP?

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 7 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
What Is Voice Over Ip?

One of the best advances in audio communication in recent years has been the technology of Voice over IP, otherwise known as VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol. It uses the Internet, or at least your broadband connection, to make phone calls, sometimes through your computer, or also through a small box that hooks up to broadband. It by-passes the traditional phone line (even as it uses it, to an extent) and offers much cheaper calling, in many cases absolutely free, which can always been a boon.

How Does Voice Over IP Work?

There are very technical explanations of the way Voice over IP works, but essentially it involves taking what someone says into a microphone or IP phone and breaking it up into minuscule packets – by minuscule, that would be milliseconds long. These are then sent and reassembled at the other end in the proper order, although some do drop out, and have to be compensated for. Think of it as hundreds or thousands of very short digital messages strung together then played in sequence.

One of the first to harness the power of VoIP was Skype, which allows you to make audio calls you others using a microphone (or these days a Skype phone) through your computer. If you call a friend who’s also a Skype member and at his computer, the call is free. You can also put credit on your account that allows you to call landline or mobile phones virtually anywhere in the world from your computer or Skype phone at a very low cost.

These days VoIP has gone very much overground, with services for homes and businesses that extend far beyond the computer, even extending to mobiles, where you can call for free from Wi-Fi hotspots, for instance. You can even buy adaptors to hook up a standard analogue phone to a VoIP network.

Do You Need VoIP?

For those with computers who want to communicate with a network of others, fairly basic VoIP is probably perfectly adequate, such as being able to communicate for free when online together through the computer. Most instant messenger services have voice chat these days, which is another example of VoIP, through the Internet.

Full VoIP services can be good if you make a lot of international phone calls, or your business does a lot of work on the phone. Then it can cut the bills dramatically. However, for most families, there are so many regular calling plans available that switching to VoIP for home phones would make very little financial difference.

It did enjoy a boom as a form of communication a few years ago, and has established its niche, and at least one company has introduced VoIP mobile phones. In terms of audio quality and reliability, VoIP has improved dramatically to be the equal of landline and mobile services. It’s certainly moved far beyond the computer these days, which isn’t a bad thing, since it shows how the technology has advanced.

For those who like to adopt new technology, VoIP is a great option. However, for many people, apart from novelty it won’t have an appreciable effect one way or another.

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