Your network can give your phone service a Voip boost

Easy Home Network



Intro:

VoIP (voice over ip) was briefly visited in the Consumer Electronics and Computers section.  It explained that new computer tech gadgets enable phone calls to be made over a broadband internet connection.  The Easy Network articles in this section gave an overview of how a network functions and the necessary components required to set one up.  The intention here is to explore VoIP in greater detail.  This way you will have a better understanding of the various VoIP options available, the necessary components required to set up a VoIP network, and their associated costs/benefits.

Background:

Although VoIP has recently been popping up on the radar as a new technology, certain variations of it have been around for several years.  Some websites used to allow long distance phone calls from your computer to a telephone via the internet.  The clarity was decent, at best, but we used it because cell phones were not as readily available and long distance calling was expensive at the time.  I know a lot of my friends and I bought calling cards when we got to college because nobody had a cell phone.  When we discovered the website that allowed us to call for free, we took advantage of it.  I can’t remember the name of the site now that I think about it.  Regardless, in the end, we saved money calling home.  For those of us that called home rather frequently, the free service was invaluable.

None of us minded that the clarity wasn’t as good as a regular phone, or that we had to wait until one person finished speaking before beginning to talk, because there wasn’t a cheap alternative.   Once the cell phone came out, internet phone calling with its’ sub-par quality was already a thing of the past.  It hadn’t even gotten a chance to mainstream.  So, why are we hearing more and more about VoIP internet phone calling now that cell phones are as popular as ever?  It’s the cost!

Cell Phones:

Remember when long distance calling from a landline was expensive?  You almost never wanted to dial someone out of town because you didn’t want your phone bill to go through the roof.  For those of us that had access to a computer and a headset, we opted to call over the internet.  Some cell phones came out that offered separate local and long distance packages so you still had to be wary of the amount of long distance minutes you were using.  They also separated your plan based on daytime and “off-peak” minutes.  Then cell phones came out with their all inclusive price packages.  You could pay once price per month and you could call anywhere in the U.S. that you wanted at no extra cost.  Then they added unlimited talk options.  On top of that, the clarity of the phone call over a cell phone was stunningly good.  For as little as $20 or $30 per month you could make unlimited phone calls, local and long distance.

Now that text messaging, emailing, web-browsing, GPS, picture, and video capture are becoming “necessities”, the calling plans are changing to reflect that demand.  Instead of your calling plan being $20 or $30 per month, once again we find the cost varies based on different services you have access to.   Instead of getting cheaper, they are getting more expensive.  For a basic plan you have to pay nearly $50 a month.  Add unlimited texting, and internet you might as well tack on another $30 a month.  Add GPS and you are looking at $100/month.  Isn’t it crazy that you pay $100/month for something that your computer has been able to do all along?  Some cell phones aren’t allowed to be purchased without also agreeing to sign up for the “optional” data plan. So, if you want to purchase a new phone, you also have to upgrade your service.  This is due to the all of the features that are built into the phone itself.

Why VoIP?

There is no wonder why internet phone calling is suddenly back on the radar.  Most services over the internet cost nothing additionally above the cost of your basic internet service plan.   Once again, internet phone calling becomes significantly cheaper than any other form of phone calling.  The biggest setback is the lack of mobility that is associated with VoIP that places it second to cell phones, despite its’ cheaper cost.  The key is determining how you can save with VoIP and why the technology may take the place of landline and cell phone calling in the very near future.

VoIP Basics:

Currently, VoIP phone calls can be made using a regular phone, a computer, or a special VoIP phone.  Whatever option you choose requires a high-speed broadband connection.  This is due to the amount of bandwidth that an internet phone call utilizes.  An internet phone call is converted and sent in the form of digital packets.  They are converted back into recognizable audio once they reach the call destination.    A network that is large enough and sophisticated enough to convert, carry and route all of these digital packets world-wide is necessary to enable quality phone calling.  Since networks were already explained, I won’t get into the details.  I will say that network development is a key aspect to VoIP success.

VoIP Hardware:

If you have a broadband connection, you can use a regular phone and a VoIP adapter that converts the signal and connects it to the network.  This is a viable option for many residential consumers looking to take advantage of VoIP.  Another option well suited for businesses are VoIP phones.  Special VoIP phones look much like regular business phones with all of the features right on the front of the phone (3-way calling, conferencing, call forwarding, call holding, etc). They are capable of hosting and routing multiple phones calls.  VoIP phones plug directly into a broadband connection.

One of the most advantageous aspects of VoIP comes when using your computer to call.  Computers already give you access to email, spreadsheets, data transfer, audio/video streaming.  If you add phone calling to the mix you have a complete audio/video/data communications device right at your fingertips.  If you already own a computer (and headset) it makes it even cheaper to take advantage of VoIP because there is no additional hardware to purchase.  If you own a laptop, you can take your communication and phone calling capabilities on the go with you.  The only thing you need is access to a wireless network.  As wireless networking develops, VoIP will too!

 

VoIP Perks:

Many VoIP service providers allow free phone calls between their customers.  This is similar to the Verizon Wireless “In-Network” advantage.  As more and more people switch to VoIP, a greater number of your phone calls become in-network and free.  The difference between local and long-distance calling become obsolete over the internet and associated costs are therefore significantly cheaper.  For businesses, branches of the same company that are located in different cities can now stay connected as if they were operating under the same roof.  Video conferencing, file sharing, and presentations become much more inclusive as information is readily available to everyone when you are hosting a call from your computer.

VoIP also offers other ways to save other than on cheaper phone calling.  Rather than purchasing expensive cell phones and signing new contracts with your wireless provider, purchasing VoIP hardware and signing up for VoIP service doesn’t have to be as costly.  You can compare prices between VoIP service providers just as you would do with a landline or cell phone provider.  You can pick a plan that best suits your needs.  If you own a business and have to install some network components, you can often find deals on computer networking products, such as network cables, routers, and switches, especially when buying them in bulk.  Hopefully, the payback period is relatively short when you save money on all of the long-distance calls your business makes and would otherwise be paying for under traditional telephone service contracts.

As mentioned before, if you own your own your own computer and have a broadband connection, all you have to purchase is a headset.  However, even if you are opting to purchase an adapter to use with you existing telephone, or purchasing a special VoIP phone, there are ways to save money.  For residential consumers, there is no sense in purchasing a brand new business VoIP phone when you can buy a simple VoIP adapter and use it with your existing telephone.  If you are setting up VoIP for your business, you can save money on purchasing VoIP phones by buying them used.  Used phones often are resold at a fraction of the cost.  Refurbished phones sometimes are in like new condition but had one minor repair made to them.  Most of the time, refurbished phones come with a full manufacturer’s warranty.   

Voip provides additional savings to companies setting up large networks. Unlike standard phone service that requires direct wiring to all connected phones, Voip technology manages packets to route multiple calls on the same lines. The control is mostly provided by software. This greatly simplifies new deployments and provides tremendous cost savings.

VoIP Setbacks:

As mentioned in the Consumer Electronics and Computers section, VoIP does have some drawbacks.  Primarily, the drawbacks have to do with IP address calling instead of having a phone number with a local area code.  IP addresses are not as easily distinguishable according to location.  You can travel with your IP address to various locations and when you dial our or receive phone calls over your computer, your exact location might not be known.  This poses problems for 911 services because they cannot trace your phone call if you are in an emergency situation.

If you are using your computer, it has to be on to receive a phone call for some services. Others require you to at lease leave your router on. If you shut down, you lose access to your phone calls.  If you don’t have wireless access where you are traveling, once again, you lose access to phone calls.  VoIP phones and regular phones that use VoIP adapters are not like cell phones.  They are hard-wired and must be plugged in.  Therefore, mobility is a problem with VoIP.  Wireless networking must vastly improve so that carrying a laptop (or smaller computer device) becomes similar to carrying a cell phone as far as convenience is concerned.  You’d have to be able to keep your computer on, or boot it fairly quickly to make or receive a phone call on the go.  The good news is that I do believe we are not too far from developing it.

Conclusion:

In general, VoIP is cheaper but not as accessible or mobile as a cell phone.  It does enable faster and more efficient data transfer to be incorporated into audio and video phone calling.  It makes for a viable business communications solution.  Strong hardwired and wireless network infrastructures and highly mobile computer devices are the key to VoIP success.

Written by Eric Higgins of CXtec

Return from Voip Communications to Ask the Computer Doc home

5/22/2009

Easy Home Network Roadmap



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