VoIP is an acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol (IP).

What does that mean? VoIP is a way of using a high-speed Internet connection as a telephone. Instead of using telephone wires running through your home to make and receive calls, a VoIP service offers equipment to make those calls in the same way, but over your Internet connection.

Why would someone want this? There are two primary benefits of VoIP service. First, it tends to be cheaper than traditional "landline" telephone services for both domestic and international calling.

Second, it allows your telephone line to travel with you, or for you to set up a local number in a country where you are not physically located. For example, if you live in Chicago and travel on business or go on vacation to Rome, you can bring your VoIP adapter with you, plug it into your hotel room’s high speed Internet connection, and make and receive telephone calls just as if you were at home in Chicago. This is not only convenient for many people, it also saves you from exorbitant international and hotel long distance charges.

Because of this, VoIP technology is replacing traditional "landline" services for many people. Others are maintaining their home phone service, but are also signing up for VoIP service to provide a second or business phone line for travel or to cut down on long distance charges.

How does it work? Your VoIP telephone service provider will send you a simple adapter that you can plug into your high-speed Internet connection and standard home telephone. You don’t need to buy a special phone; you can use the same one you are using right now. You can even wire the system so all the phones in your home are connected to the VoIP service. (This is slightly more complicated, but it can be done.)

In many areas, you can choose to use your existing phone number for your VoIP calls so your friends, family, or business associates do not need to update their address books. Or, if you want a new number, you can choose which area code you wouldd like it in.

When you pick up the phone, you get a dial tone as usual. Simply dial and talk. When someone calls you, your phone rings just like it always does. Enhanced services such as voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, call transfer, call return, and repeat dialing are available. Typically many of these features are included in your plan for free. Also available are toll-free numbers, additional phone lines, fax services, 411 information, and the ability to use your laptop as a telephone.

Why VoIP?

The number one reason to switch to VoIP for telephone service is cost reduction. From that base, VoIP is able to provide some compelling features which makes switching even more attractive.

Eliminating Phone Lines

With VoIP service, you can cancel your subscription to traditional telephone service and place all your telephone calls over your broadband Internet connection.

For a residential customer, this will save around $40 a month. For business customers, the savings can be thousands of dollars a month.

Eliminating Long Distance Charges

VoIP also saves money on long-distance charges. Most residential and business telephone customers pay per-minute fees for long-distance telephone calls. VoIP can reduce or eliminate these long-distance fees. This is especially valuable for making international calls, where per-minute charges for traditional telephone calls can be very expensive.

Number Portability

With VoIP service, you can easily take your phone number anywhere you go. If you have a Chicago number and you move to New York, you can keep your Chicago number. This is very convenient for friends and family to keep in contact with you wherever you go.

Computer Telephony Integration (CTI)

VoIP service providers are designing and implementing new features which implement Computer Telephony Integration (CTI).

For example, VoIP customers may be able to receive their voice messages in email as .wav file attachments. This can make managing voice mail messages much easier and more powerful because it enables recipients to archive voice mails or forward them to anyone with an email address.

Additional Reading on VoIP