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Maybe you’ve switched to only communicating entirely in emoji. If you’re like me, you probably love a good phone call now and again. Yes, actually speaking to another human being verbally is a great way to get clear answers, catch up with friends emotionally, and avoid hundred-response email chains about mundanity like, “where should we go to dinner?” VoIP is one way you can make these calls, often for free. Here’s everything you need to know about VoIP.
What is VoIP?
VoIP stands for “voice over IP” or “voice over internet protocol.” Simply put, VoIP is a method for taking analog audio signals, like the voice on the other end of a phone call, and turning it into digital data that can be transferred over the internet.
Back in the days of landline phones, which, believe it or not, some people still use, making a call created a (literal) wired connection between you and the phone you’re targeting. It involved passing the call through a person known as a switchboard operator and in more recent times, a device that moves physical cables from jack to jack to connect calls.
VoIP is a digital technology that records a caller’s voice, turns it into data (ones and zeros), and sends it over to a target address using data connections on the internet. The receiver hears your voice decoded back into sound and played back.
Even if you don’t fully understand VoIP, it’s probable that you’ve already used it. The most well-known companies that use VoIP services are Skype, Google Voice, and Vonage. Many other companies use the technology for internal phone conversations (like when a receptionist tells you your 4:00 meeting is “here”), for telemarketing campaigns to make high-call volume affordable, and for working with international clients.
How does VoIP work?
There are three different ways VoIP technology works.
ATA: Also known as an analog telephone adapter, ATA allows users to connect a standard phone to your computer or internet connection for use with VoIP. Even if you have a hamburger phone from the ‘80s that connects to the wall, an ATA can take those landline signals and convert them to VoIP. Now you don’t have to pay a landline bill! Everything, even your calls, now works with the internet.
IP phones: These are special phones that connect to computers using an ethernet connector on one end and directly to your router to make VoIP calls. Wi-Fi phones are the cordless version. If you work a job that involves making a lot of calls while sitting in front of a computer, you may be using an IP phone already.
Computer-to-Computer: If you’ve used Skype, it’s likely you’ve made a computer-to-computer VoIP call. If you have a built-in microphone and speakers, you can download any computer-to-computer VoIP software. No matter the distance, you will not be charged for these calls, since they’re made using your internet connection!
In all three, your voice is digitized, turned into data, sent through the internet, and decoded back into an audio file on the receiver’s computer. Allowing users to choose their hardware makes VoIP one of the most versatile technologies out there.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of VoIP?
The biggest benefit to using VoIP is the cost. For computer-to-computer or computer-to-cell calls, the cost is free. You just have to pay your internet bill on time. For computer-to-landline calls, the cost is significantly less than paying for a phone plan. In traditional landlines, companies were once limited to how many “lines” could be added. There’s no limit to how many VoIP lines can be added, however. It all depends on your connection’s bandwidth. VoIP also has a sound quality that is often clearer and better than a traditional phone.
The biggest downside to using VoIP is the possibility for latency. Just like a TV connected to the internet that sometimes loses sound syncing when the internet is throttled, this can happen while speaking over VoIP.
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How to get VoIP
You can download and create an account with Skype for desktop here or Google Voice here. There are many other providers out there who will add features and personalized plans if you’re going to be making a lot of calls.
If you want to have a landline phone that connects to VoIP and cut the cord on paying for landline service, you’ll need to follow a few steps. You’ll have to create a free account with a VoIP provider. Then, you’ll have to make sure you have an ethernet cable and an ATA, like this $35 OBi adapter. This how-to guide details the steps you’ll need to connect everything together. Now you’ll never have to worry again about your apartment’s crappy cell service.
The best uses for VoIP
Here are some ways to implement VoIP technology.
- List your business on the 411 directory.
- Get a local number, if area codes matter to you.
- Get an alternate number that you can use for filling out internet forms or for anyone else you really don’t want to call you.
- Keep your number but use Google Voice to screen your calls completely by never giving out your “real” number.
- Record yourself speaking, then use free transcribing features to type up your words. Hey, they say everyone’s got a novel in them.
- Save money on making travel calls.
- Connect your apartment’s buzzer to a VoIP line. Now you’ll never miss a delivery, even if you’re not home.
Claire Downs is a tech reporter who covers the intersection of the internet and pop culture. A third-generation worker in the Chicago futures industry, she specializes in cryptocurrencies and altcoins. Her work can also be seen in Cosmopolitan, Vice Motherboard, VH1.com, and Merry Jane.