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What Is VoIP? Voice Over IP Calling Explained – How-To Geek

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A woman and child using headsets to voice chat on a tablet and laptop.
Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock.com

VoIP technology promises cheaper and more versatile calls than traditional phone solutions. But how does it work, and can you call anyone over VoIP? Here is all you need to know about Voice over IP calling.

Calling Over the Internet

Google Voice app on a laptop and smartphone.
Google

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a technology that allows you to make calls over the internet instead of traditional phone lines or cellular connections. Although its name suggests that it only enables voice calls, modern VoIP services are far more capable and can offer video calls, file transfer, group calls, and much more. It’s also referred to as IP telephony or internet telephony.

VoIP calls can be made using computers, smartphones, tablets, special VoIP phones, traditional phones connected to an adapter, and other internet-connected devices.

Some of the most popular implementations of VoIP technology are found in consumer-grade applications like FaceTime, Google Voice, Skype, and WhatsApp. However, it’s also used by businesses for their communication needs.

How Does VoIP Work?

In VoIP calling, your analog voice signal is converted into a digital signal and transmitted over the internet using data packets. It first reaches your VoIP service provider, who then routes it to the receiver, where it’s converted back to a voice signal.

The receiver can be anyone: a user of the same VoIP service, a mobile phone, or someone with a landline, as long as the VoIP supports calling them. Depending on the service, they may not be required on the same service as you or have a VoIP phone.

What Do You Need for VoIP Calling?

There are three main requirements for making a VoIP call: an internet connection, a VoIP service, and the necessary hardware.

For most people, VoIP calling typically means opening up a VoIP app on their internet-connected smartphone and calling a contact. It’s called software-based VoIP and is available via dozens of apps on all popular platforms, including Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. Some of the most popular VoIP apps for non-business users are Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Google Duo, Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp Messenger.

Hardware-based VoIP services require a special VoIP phone or analog telephone adapters (ATA) connected to a regular landline phone. Both connect to your router to access the internet and provide the calling functionality. In the case of hardware-based VoIP services, you are typically allotted a virtual phone number, or you can port an existing number.

Who Can You Call Over VoIP?

Depending on your VoIP service, you can either call other people on the same service or anyone with a phone number. The charges for VoIP calls also differ based on which service you are using and whether you are calling a person on the same service, a local number, a long-distance number, a mobile number, or an international number. Most consumer-grade VoIP services available via an app on your phone or computer are free but only allow you to call other members of the same service.

RELATED: How to Make a Facetime Audio Call

What Are the Benefits?

Skype on two mobile phones.
Microsoft

VoIP services have several advantages. One of the key reasons why people gravitate towards VoIP calling is its cost-effective nature. You either get to make free calls, or when you are paying for it, its overall cost is lower than traditional landline or cellular calls.

Beyond that, VoIP offers far more features than regular voice calls. Depending on which device or service you use to make a VoIP call, you can access group calls, video calls, call recording, customizable caller ID, and much more. Of course, standard call features like call waiting, call forwarding, regular caller ID, and more are also available.

Additionally, if you have sufficient bandwidth, VoIP calls typically offer better audio quality. Plus, you are not restricted by your location; you can use VoIP services anywhere you have an internet connection.

Another significant advantage of VoIP is the consolidation of communication technologies in one system. You typically get the voice, video, and text-based communication methods in one place. This is very helpful for both individual users and businesses.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

VoIP services offer many benefits, but there are a few downsides as well. Most importantly, not all VoIP providers support calling emergency services by dialing 911.

Additionally, as internet connectivity is a vital part of the VoIP service, you won’t be able to make a call or receive it in case of an internet outage. Power outages can also impact VoIP calling, depending on your service or hardware. That said, some VoIP services allow users to forward calls to regular landlines or cellphones in case of an outage.

Also, as the call quality depends on internet bandwidth availability and connection quality, you may experience dropped calls and other artifacts if the connection speed drops or there is limited bandwidth availability.

Directory assistance is another feature that may or may not be available with every VoIP service. Lastly, VoIP services are also at risk of eavesdropping and cyberattacks unless your service provider has put proper safeguards in place, including encryption. Even if they do use encryption, though, there can be different levels to it. For example, Signal voice calls are end-to-end encrypted by default (meaning even the Signal Foundation can’t listen in), but Telegram calls are not.

Should You Transition to VoIP?

There is a good chance you are already using VoIP as a part of the apps like FaceTime, Skype, Telegram, or WhatsApp. But if you aren’t, these smartphones and computer VoIP apps are a great starting point for using internet telephony.

Beyond these apps, you can also choose VoIP for your residence or business. But that is typically more complex and expensive. Most of the complexity, though, is limited to the initial setup. Once you are all set, it’s cheaper and feature-rich.

That said, it’s a good idea to weigh your options and consider the benefits and drawbacks before making the jump.

RELATED: How to Switch to VoIP and Ditch Your Home Phone Bill Forever

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