What Is VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol)?

When you think of making a phone call, you typically think of using a smartphone or landline. While both are great, reliable ways to call, they aren’t the only ways. Using VoIP phones and VoIP technology, which operates on the transport layer to communicate across Internet connections, is on the rise. Here, we explain what VoIP is and how it works, then break down the benefits and disadvantages so you can make an informed decision about the phone technology that’s best for you.

What is VoIP?

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol technology, provides a different way to place calls that doesn’t rely on a cellphone signal or telephone wires. The acronym refers to the actual method used to place the calls; it relies on broadband and your Internet Protocol address (IP address) to route and carry the calls. Instead of connecting to cell phone towers, Voice over IP converts phone calls into data transported over the Internet via your WiFi signal. These calling sessions are initiated by SIP, or Session Internet Protocol. It’s cheaper and more innovative than traditional analog phone services.

Though you can purchase an IP phone from a Voice over Internet Protocol provider, chances are you’ve used VoIP technology without even realizing it. Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger all work by using Voice over Internet Protocol. They don’t rely on a cell phone signal; as long as you have a solid WiFi connection, you’re able to use these technologies to call your friends.

A man choosing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

How VoIP works

A VoIP phone system works through packet-switching technology. It converts voice signals into digital data, which then travels to another device. When a VoIP phone receives that data, the data splits into information packets and receives a destination address. The data goes over your broadband line to your router, where the information goes along the quickest possible path to its destination.

The Voice over Internet Protocol phone receiving the information packets uses the address on the packets to order them, and finally, the data is transferred back into voice. Your phone must connect to your router through the local area network (LAN) in order to work successfully.

Voice over IP entirely bypasses standard telephone communications, relying only on WiFi and the strength of a user’s broadband connection. Most VoIP phones also rely on Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. Furthermore, it’s become drastically cheaper in recent years. VoIP phone systems continue to become more affordable.

What is a VoIP phone?

A VoIP phone, as the name implies, is a kind of telephone specifically programmed to use IP technology to make and receive calls. It uses the Internet to connect and is unreliant on traditional landline technology. These devices are easy to use and capable of routing calls just like traditional landlines are.

Other devices supporting VoIP technology

Voice over IP services are available on more than just VoIP phones. In addition, most types of the following devices integrate Voice over IP technology:

  • Analog telephone adapters. This is the most common way to use the technology; adapters allow users to connect phones to the Internet and VoIP technology without needing to purchase a new phone. The adapter converts standard analog signals into transmissible digital data.
  • Similarly, VoIP handsets plug straight into the router with an Ethernet cable to make and receive calls via the Internet.
  • Most smartphones, whether Apple or Android, are capable of making calls using the Internet. Many apps allow you to configure a smartphone or mobile phone to a pre-existing Voice over IP system. Other apps exist independently using VoIP technology, like WhatsApp. These are downloadable from a smartphone’s app store.
  • Like smartphones, laptops or desktop computers also have the necessary technology to make calls via the Internet. Apps like Skype use this technology. Many of these apps offer VoIP calling for free to another person with the app.

Features of VoIP

If you choose to switch to a cloud-based phone service rather than a traditional phone service, you have many VoIP phone services available to choose from. The service features may vary depending on which you choose, but in general, Voice over IP phone services include convenient features like:

  • call queuing
  • call monitoring
  • transcription availability
  • live chat
  • call analytics
  • an automated attendant

GetVOIP compiles a list of the ninety best features of VoIP services, as these listed above are just a few that stand to make VoIP calling technology superior to traditional services. These features are all in addition to traditional phone service capabilities, like caller ID and speed dial.

Pros and cons of using Voice over IP

Benefits

Using VoIP offers many benefits that traditional voice calls can’t offer. However, as with anything, there are both pros and cons to switching over. A few of the benefits are:

  • It costs less. VoIP calls are placed over the Internet rather than via the Public Switched Telephone Network (PTSN). This means the costs are minimal. Users experience a significant reduction in long-distance calling fees since all you need to make the call is a reliable Internet connection. The reduction of added fees means that the overall cost, for companies and for users, shrinks up to 60%.
  • The sound quality improves. Voice over Internet Protocol has the ability to produce higher-quality sound than traditional phone services. The call quality improves with VoIP, which means that you won’t struggle to hear the person on the other end as much.
  • Most services offer added features at no extra cost. Many VoIP services include features such as teleconferencing or videocall abilities without any added charge. Conference calls become far easier, and even for one-on-one calls, video capabilities are an added bonus.
  • It's convenient. A highly technical setup isn't necessary to use a VoIP service. Many are available for free—like the aforementioned Skype or WhatsApp—and for VoIP phone services, simply plug them in and connect them to WiFi.

Furthermore, VoIP phones are linked to user accounts rather than phone numbers. This allows users to make or receive calls from multiple accounts rather than being limited to a single phone number at a time.

Disadvantages

On the other hand, consider these drawbacks of the VoIP systems.

  • It’s not as accessible as traditional phone services. Though most locations and homes have WiFi, it’s still a limiting factor. You can’t make a VoIP call with their standard phone services without having a WiFi connection, so unless you use a mobile WiFi hotspot, this can make using Voice over IP in all situations difficult.
  • The reliability sometimes falters. The issue with using WiFi to make a call is that the communication is, obviously, completely reliant on that WiFi. If it cuts out, or your WiFi has connection issues, your call will fall or have poor quality. This issue can be potentially fixed by using an Ethernet cable to wire your computer to your router (and thus your Internet) but if that isn’t an option, losing your WiFi connection is a risk to VoIP calls.

Another drawback is that VoIP services don’t always properly connect to or share a caller’s location with emergency services, since the phone is reliant on an IP address. The Federal Communications Commission warns those who rely exclusively on a VoIP system to be aware of this potential issue when calling 911 or your country’s emergency line. It’s possible that a VoIP 911 call may not ring the correct line, correctly indicate the caller’s location information or phone number, or function properly during a power outage.

For those who are fully subscribed to a VoIP service, make sure you have a backup device in case of emergencies. If you make a VoIP 911 call, provide the first responder with your phone number and location to the best of your knowledge over the phone. You can also provide your physical home address to your interconnected VoIP service provider to have location information on file.

Frequently asked questions

Is VoIP the same as WiFi calling?

Though they’re similar, no, it is not the same as WiFi calling. WiFi calling uses a network directly to connect to devices for calls. But Voice over IP converts data and uses a network to transfer it. Furthermore, WiFi calling technology is typically built into devices, like iPhones. Voice over IP software, on the other hand, needs downloaded.

Can VoIP call regular phones?

Yes, VoIP phones can call any phone, whether it’s a landline, a cellphone, or another VoIP phone.

Does VoIP require a landline?

No, Voice over IP technology doesn’t require a landline to function. It needs an Internet connection. Voice over IP works with landline phones provided a user acquires the necessary equipment, but it doesn’t require one.

What does VoIP stand for?

It stands for Voice over IP, or Voice over Internet Protocol.