Voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services can take the place of your landline telephone. Instead of placing calls via the traditional telephone network, VOIP services route calls over the internet. As a result, VOIP services are often much cheaper than using a landline phone, especially for making international calls.
VOIP services comparison chart for 2017
VOIP services explained
VOIP services work by converting your voice into digital signals which are sent over the internet. At the other end, they’re converted back into the sound of your voice, so you can talk to the person you’re contacting.
Although they work over the internet, most VOIP services don’t require the person you’re calling to be using a VOIP service. You can call ordinary telephones too – and you’ll be allocated a number so they can call you.
There are two main types of VOIP service:
You need a broadband internet connection to use both types of VOIP service. You’ll also probably be required to open an account with the VOIP service provider and pay for calls using a credit card.
Getting started with VOIP services
VOIP services give you nearly all the features of a standard telephone, plus more versatility. For instance, with VOIP software you can often see the person you’re calling using a webcam, or hold a call with three or more people on it. What’s more, you’re not tied to one location – your number can follow you wherever you go, as long as there’s an internet connection there.
And – of course – the biggest benefit is the saving you can make. With vastly reduced international call costs (because you don’t have to pay the phone company to connect you), you’ll clean up if you call abroad regularly.
To find the right VOIP service, consider these key areas.
One of the main justifications for switching to VOIP from a traditional landline phone is the saving you can make on the cost of calls.
Carefully check what your VOIP service charges for calls. In particular, check how much it will cost to call the numbers you phone most. VOIP services are not cheapest in all circumstances, especially when it comes to placing local calls.
Monthly charges and inclusive minutes
Like mobile phone tariffs, many VOIP services charge a monthly subscription fee. In return, you’ll receive an allowance of calls to use each month. Check what sort of calls these minutes apply to – if you pick carefully, you might not have to pay anything over the regular charge.
However, if you don’t use the phone so often, opt for a pay as you go service. You don’t want to be paying a monthly fee for occasional use.
Do people you know use it?
Many VOIP services – especially software VOIP services – allow you to place calls for free to people who use the same service. If you only call one or two people regularly, it’s a good idea to both sign up for the same VOIP service. You can talk for hours, and pay nothing!
Telephone number availability
Most VOIP services allow you to choose what sort of telephone number you want. You don’t have to settle for a number with the dialing code for your local area, or even your country. You can get a London number even if you’re in Los Angeles.
It’s worth considering your choice of number carefully. When people call you from a normal telephone, it will affect how much they pay. So if all your family lives in Australia and they call you regularly, why not set up an Australian number?
Reliability and backup
It’s important to remember that because VOIP services don’t work in the same way as an ordinary landline, they may not be as reliable. If your broadband connection fails or you have a power cut, you won’t be able to make calls.
If your telephone is vital to you, consider what you’d use as a backup in these types of circumstances. Many people keep their landline telephone too, just in case.
Ease of use
If you’re new to VOIP, it can be a tricky concept to grasp. For instance, the idea that you can have a phone number different to the country you’re actually in seems counter-intuitive at first!
It’s therefore important to choose a VOIP service you’re comfortable using. In general, hardware-based services which give you an actual handset are easiest to use. However, they may mean having to sacrifice a little flexibility.
Help and support
VOIP services are generally reliable. However, if you do depend on them to make and receive calls, you’ll want to be able to get help quickly if something goes wrong. Look for a service with telephone support (so you can get hold of someone quickly).
If you’ll be using VOIP only to make certain types of calls, or alongside your main telephone, you’ll probably be able to manage with a lower level of support. This, of course, tends to be cheaper.
Here are our answers to the most common questions about VOIP services.
Q. What is a VOIP service?
A VOIP service allows you to place and receive telephone calls over the internet, rather than over traditional telephone lines. VOIP services convert your voice into digital signals, which are sent over the internet like any other data.
Q. Why would I use a VOIP service instead of my normal telephone?
It usually comes down to cost and flexibility. Because VOIP services send their data over the internet, you don’t have to pay high call charges. Making calls via VOIP is usually cheaper than using a normal telephone – though it’s international calls where the savings are really noticeable.
VOIP services also tend to be much more flexible. For instance, your telephone number can follow you everywhere. Because you don’t have a fixed phone line, calls can be routed over the internet to wherever you are.
Q. Can I call normal telephones with VOIP – and can they call me?
Yes. Most VOIP services allow you to call normal telephone numbers. And you’ll be assigned a telephone number so they can call you as well. People who call you will have no idea that you’re using VOIP.
Q. Can people listen in to calls I make via VOIP?
Almost certainly not. VOIP calls are generally harder to intercept than calls made over normal phone lines, because they are separated into tiny electronic ‘packets’ of data. Each packet may take a different route to its destination – so it’s very hard for someone to intercept them all.
Additionally, a growing number of VOIP services offer encryption. This scrambles the call before it’s sent over the internet – so even if someone does intercept the data, they won’t be able to understand it.
Q. Are there any restrictions on who I can call?
Not usually. Most VOIP services allow you to call any other telephone number in the world. Just make sure you check the cost of the call before dialing!
Q. Once I have a telephone number, can I keep it?
Possibly. Many VOIP services have number porting systems in place, allowing you to take your number with you when you move from one VOIP service to another.
Q. What sort of internet connection do I need to use a VOIP service?
You don’t actually need a super-fast internet connection to use VOIP. Most home broadband connections are more than up to the job, and you may be able to make calls of acceptable quality even over slower connections.
If your internet connection is too slow, you’ll notice a deterioration in call quality or broken speech.
Q. Why do some VOIP service charge a monthly fee?
Services that charge a monthly fee tend to offer inclusive minutes (so you can call certain numbers at no extra cost), as well as other extra features like caller ID, voicemail, call blocking and blacklisting.
Subscription services which charge by the month are best-suited to people who plan to make regular calls over VOIP. If you’ll only be an occasional user, opt for a free service, at least to begin with. Many VOIP providers will allow you to upgrade once you’ve tried the service out.
Like all new technologies, it’s no surprise that VOIP comes with a fair amount of jargon. Here’s how to translate the most important terms.
Allows you to divert your calls to another number. Call divert is most commonly used if you want to send calls to your mobile while you’re out and about, or to another landline phone – for instance, if you’re working at a desk in someone else’s office.
Call diversion is also handy if your internet connection ever goes down. As a backup, you can divert calls to your mobile or normal landline. However, remember that there’s usually a cost for using call divert features.
Enables you to hold telephone calls between more than two people. Many VOIP services include conference calling features that can accommodate ten, 20 or 30 people. Conference calling is really useful for holding meetings or discussions between a group of people.
Have your telephone number follow you around. You can set up many VOIP services to forward calls to a number of different telephone numbers in succession – so even if you’re not online with your VOIP service, calls should find you eventually.
Used to describe the delay between data being sent and received on the internet. If latency is high, you may notice a delay on calls placed over your VOIP service.
Calls placed between two people using the same VOIP service (or ‘network’). Many VOIP services allow you to make network calls for free – so it’s a good idea to encourage people you call regularly to use the same network as you.
The process of moving your telephone number from one provider to another. You may be able to port your number from your landline to a VOIP service, or between VOIP services.
A box which allows a standard telephone handset to access your VOIP service. Many VOIP services will supply a phone adapter for free. They let you place calls over VOIP using exactly the same telephone you were using before.
A piece of software running on your computer through which you can access your VOIP service. If you use a softphone, you’ll need a microphone and speakers, or a headset to talk to the people you call. Some VOIP services are only available through a softphone.