What is Internet Telephony?

Category: Telephony

Seems like everybody, and everything, is getting connected to the Internet. Have you heard about Internet Telephony? If you have high- speed Internet service, you may be able to save on telephone charges by connecting the phone to your modem instead of the phone company's wall jack. Read on to learn more about using the Internet to make phone calls.

Operator, Can ya help me place this call?

Internet telephony (also called VoIP or Voice Over Internet Protocol) connects your phone to the Internet via your high-speed cable or DSL modem. Instead of plugging into your local phone company's wall jack, you plug your phone line into a telephony adapter. The adapter plugs into the modem and converts the signal from your phone into data that travels over the Internet. You still use your phone the same way.

Why would you want to make the switch to Internet telephony? Saving money is the primary reason. Generally VoIP services cost only $20 to $30 per month, and that includes unlimited local and long distance calling. Some providers even include international calls for free.

The quality of the calls is generally excellent, but depends on the reliability of your Internet connection. If your cable/DSL service tends to be flaky, you may not want to use VoIP. You may also have choppy voice quality if you're using your Internet connection to download a large file during a conversation.

And of course, if there's a power outage, your phone won't work. If you have a cell phone as backup that may not be a big deal, but it's something to consider.

If you're interested in trying out Internet telephone service, contact your Internet provider to see if they offer it. You may save money if you get it bundled with your current Internet service. You can also check into services such as Vonage [ http://vonage.com ], or Lingo [ http://lingo.com ].


Another option is Skype [ http://www.skype.com ] which gives you the option of truly free Internet calling. This is computer to computer calling, so you'll be making your calls using the microphone and speakers attached to your computer. They do offer Skype-to-phone calling, but that's a fee-based service. Skype works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

Is VoIP working for you? Or do you have a horror story to relate? Post your comments below...

 
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Most recent comments on "What is Internet Telephony?"

Posted by:

PATRICIA GRAHAM
07 Feb 2006

We just hooked up to Vonage and so far it is great. I liked it when I called to check it out and got to talk to a real person. We are saving around $50 a month and we have a cell phone for power outage. Also I turned the power off to my computer and the phone still worked. Everyone should at least check into this


Posted by:

Raymond Lemire
08 Feb 2006

We've been using www.packet8.com since September. I was unsure about the quality so I kept my land based line for 3 months while testing the internet phone. Since then we have cancelled the land line and transferred our phone number to Packet8. Quality has been excellent - except sometimes shaky when calling Canada. But excellent everywhere in the US and calls to France and England.

We have the main phone connected to through our network hub and have three satellite phones that wirelessly connect to it. Uniden phones - cost $80 at Costco. I highly recommend it. Caller ID, call waiting, off site answering system which can be sent to your email and much more. All for a flat fee of around $21 per month with unlimited calls to US and Canada.

I'm sounding like a commercial - but I really don't have any affiliation with them other than being a satisfied customer. We are saving $50-$75 per month from our land line (Verizon) costs. Plus we have cell phones for back up. And 911 service is included in our area - be sure to check that out.


Posted by:

Melody Siracusa
08 Feb 2006

I use Skype for Linux, and I love it. I have family overseasa, so I have a 'Skypein' number that is local for them to call, so I save money, they save money, and we get to talk more often. The sound quality is great. In fact, the only problem I have is forgetting to switch on my microphone when making a call!


Posted by:

Daniel Burns
08 Feb 2006

I am in Australia and we have now been using this service, through a company called Engin, for a few months and are cheering about the savings. I live in a large country town in Australia where techo stuff like this is very thin on the ground. We have to keep our existing account active to our regular phone company as inbound calls are not available in our area. To show just how great a saving it is, we are still saving around $50/mnth (gone from approx $100 bills to $50) even though we have to keep an account open. Of course we changed our plan with them to be the minimum mnthly fee.

You should have heard the confused customer service person at the phone company when I explained I wanted to change our plan to the lowest mnthly fee and most expensive per call cost. She wanted me to understand just how much I would be paying for calls. I said I understood - I chuckled on the inside.

We used Skype as a bit of a test before we committed to signing up with a company. It passed the test fairly well (about 50c for a 1/2 hr call to my mother in England - I'll buy that for a doll... err 50c). That's when we went with Engin who promise much higher call quality than Skype.

Great article Bob, might use it as a quick reference when I try and spread the word amongst friends.


Posted by:

Dalton Tamney
08 Feb 2006

I have been using Skype for several months now. I talk to old high school friends in Holland and Florida for free. The quality is great even when we all get on together. They have also subscribed to Skype so the calls cost us nothing and we often talk for an hour or more. Thanks to Skype I have firmly renewed my friendship with these people. Without it I simply could not have afforded to do this paying regular long distance


Posted by:

David
08 Feb 2006

I thought it a great idea, so I bought a Vonage unit at Staples (with rebates make it very cheap)

When I tried to use their web activation tool, it kept failing right at the end. (after several pages of forms) I called them and they tried it too (they only have the same tool). They said their system was down and try later. Several more tries later... they took almost a week to respond to an email and ask a question so I had to sit on hold calling. Finally got a second tier support person who told me I should buy a new unit.

Turns out their system registers the units serial number to an account and it can't be changed. I had unknowingly bought a returned unit. I returned it again and explained the situation to Staples. They were very good about it. I pointed out to Vonage that this was going to happen over and over again with returned units...

I plan to try VoIP again later but with someone else. If you try Vonage, get the unit from them directly to avoid this. Several people I know love VoIP. One detail - if you use ADSL, you can't loose your land line. So its better with Cable. If you do loose you land line, you can discconect the outside connection and the rest of your house is in parrallel. Plug the VoIP box into the wall and all the plugs will be "lit". See: http://vonage.ca/help.php?article=921


Posted by:

Chris Levy
08 Feb 2006

Hi Bob - Have used Skype for several weeks now and very pleased. Easy to set up and quality is better thanks to headphones, so my hard-of-hearing Dad can now understand me!! Now enjoying free calls to brother in Australia, brother in Manchester, Dad in Liverpool, while I am in Hereford UK. Viva la revolution!!


Posted by:

Ron Rolley
08 Feb 2006

We have used Skype for several years. We live in Indiana and have used it for conference calls with family in Chicago and Paris, France. We used it about a year ago in Paris to talk with family vacationing in Costa Rica where their cell phone didn't work. Our 3 year old granddaughter in Paris seems more talkative with the computer speaker call than she does on the phone. Looking forward to trying video calls which are also free on Skype.


Posted by:

Izzy
08 Feb 2006

Use CQphone

http://www.cqphone.com/

completely free, no registration, all that's needed is both parties download the free software, and if you've got webcams, you can do video-phone calls, with excellent voice and picture quality. Also works on dial-up, although you can experience slight voice delay.


Posted by:

Leslie Levy
08 Feb 2006

I live in Sarasota, FL, the lightning capital of the U.S. In many storms, with or without lighting and which occur almost daily from about May to September, cable often goes down, though usually only briefly. However, we can all remember times when it was down for days. Cell almost always goes down before cable — we are warned of this as part of hurricane protection. Here, if you want to be sure of a connection, you must keep a land line phone. I should add that most of the time it really is gorgeous here, and the beaches are spectacular.


Posted by:

Philip Hosmer
08 Feb 2006

I have used Skype, Skype in, Skype out & video and it is all very high quality and cheap. I keep a cell phone for when I am not at the computer. The 45 min calls to Brazil for free (computer to computer) can't be matched. It is like the other person is right in the room. I'd say it is CD quality. I am very happy and promote it as the cell and land line service gets worse. Even calls in the 1940's were crystal clear and had volume. The Bell break up had its downside I guess.


Posted by:

Deke
09 Feb 2006

What are the odds on FON taking over a huge chunk of this market? Me, I'm waiting for the open-source alternative... :)


Posted by:

Mike Parker
09 Feb 2006

Bob, we found another alternative to internet phone connections, at least for limitted use to specific destinations: My son is going to college on the other side of the country. We were using IM (AIM) to text message frequently, because we were both on the computer so often. We tried video thru the IM connection. It was one-way, since he didn't have a webcam. Originally it didn't work. We suspected it was due to a filewall issue: his dorm internet connection was behind a campus firewall. This year he moved off campus, and is ISP is his local cable company (as is ours). Now we have the video connection working via IM. And lo and behold, he not only can see me, but he can hear me! I didn't realize that my webcam had a built in microphone! I am sending him a webcam, and we expect to be able to have both voice and video communications up soon, using only the AIM instant messaging client. A lot of people may already have a webcam that includes a built in microphone. And many people are already using IM of one sort or another. So they may all they need to get at least limitted internet voice communications.


Posted by:

Scott Strehlow
10 Feb 2006

I have not yet used this. My local phone and internet are both from Comcast cable. There is a discount on phone, internet, and cable tv when multiple services are purchased. If I drop the phone, the internet will get more expensive (I don't have cable tv). This mitigates much of the cost benefit. My cell service includes free long distance.

It is important to verify 911 service. Some VoIP services support it, some don't. Those that do sometimes have mixed results. In most cases the calls go through, but may not provide the location information to the dispatcher.


Posted by:

captainfepa
10 Feb 2006

I have used SunRocket for a year, impressed by its low cost ($200/12-13 months including some free international calls) and mostly by its policy of not adding on any BS surcharges, fees, taxes (which VOIP services don't pay anyway), etc. The voice quality has been mostly unusable due to echo, distortion, etc despite my cable broadband tested as providing very adequate bandwidth and QoS.

When my wife and kid threated to poison me over the phone service I finally pressed SunRocket, which had basically ignored earlier emails. Not only was the voice quality nearly unusable, I would frequently get no service, be connected to a number bearing no relation to what I dialed, or even a number that I had actually dialed days before. Several attempts to reach customer service (which was moved to the Philippines) went nowhere. So I tried to dial several extensions at SunRocket headquarters, including that of their former chief. I finally reached a real person - but it was another subscriber, a housewife in her kitchen, not even an employee, who asked whether I reached wrong numbers a lot too!

In fairness, I understand that one of my associates has had reasonable service from them (though I never got my bonus phone for referring him, despite six or eight calls). I still like SunRocket - the only reasons I can offer are just high relational self-construal and a worse dislike for Verizon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: So... you get lousy phone service, lousy customer service, they don't keep their promises, and you still love it??? I sure hope your "high relational self-construal" keeps your wife and kids from leaving town! :-)


Posted by:

Robert
14 Feb 2006

We use Vonage, after sampling many companies and prices...Vonage is the cheapest, has the best quality, and all features are free, for about $25/month (prior phone bills were about $70/mo.). We tried Skype (had to be sure the other person, a) had a computer; b) wanted to pay the price. With AOL, you also pay monthly ($24). Comcast, AT&T, Verison also offer it, but for another $10/mo. at about $40. Vonage also has a "virtual number"--useful if you often call another state, get a number in that state; your friend or family member in that state calls that number for free (instead of calling long distance to you) and it rings in your home...the fee for this is about $5/month (useful only if you talk to this person a lot--like 3x a week, i.e., my wife and her mom).

Make sure you get the eqpt. (router, etc.) right from Vonage (comment above on returned eqpt. serial #'s is true). Also, get a high speed phone connection (we use two Uniden 2.4 GHz wireless phones, with Comcast cable). Cell phone as an alternate. Total costs of Internet + Cable + Vonage + Cell = $120/mo. (versus over $200 previous). I'm still waiting for Congress to get wise, and put their sticky little fingers and start taxing all this, probably a year or two away. Lose (not "loose") your land lines.


Posted by:

Ben
11 Dec 2007

I live in Nigeria and my son and daughter are in schools in USA and UK respectively. I have been able to talk with them pc-to-pc using Yahoo Instant Messenger (IM). The voice quality is very good.

My daughter had to use a friend's pc as the Yahoo IM on her macbook does not have the capabilty for pc-to-pc telephone. The macbook has IChat but then I do not have a macbook. Any ideas on how to solve this problem? Ben

EDITOR'S NOTE: Skype works on both Mac and PC.


Posted by:

Paul Anderson
30 Oct 2012

I would like to add that I use a telephone, called Ozeki Phone System XE and tried many apps , including the ones you mentioned (Vonage and Sykpe) but some of them are really bad. The telephone system itself is great but these apps...you should be really careful when you decide to subscribe for one, sometimes its a waste of money.

On the site of telephone system I use, there is an article that may be useful for all: http://www.ozekiphone.com/phone-calls-on-the-internet-explained-376.html

You can get a lot of tips and info there, have fun :)


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