Many internet providers and specialized companies are now offering phone service over internet connections. These services use VOIP or Voice Over IP (Internet Protocol) technology to translate phone conversations and dialed numbers to secure digital "packets" that can be sent over the Internet. It does not matter if the person you are calling has VOIP phone service and people can still call you using your regular phone number. The only difference with this service is that you are no longer using - and no longer paying - to use the traditional telephone network.
Unlike earlier versions of broadband phone technology which were generally unavailable to the general public, today's VOIP phone services are cheap and quite reliable. With typical residential phone bills hovering around $50.00 consumers have been eager for a reliable alternatives and it looks like internet phone service has finally come of age.
Most of the companies offering broadband phone service advertise that the sound quality is "virtually the same" as a regular phone call. While that statement is somewhat non-committal it is basically true. There is almost no difference between a regular call and a broadband phone call. Of course, the best way to find out is to try it. The companies that sell broadband phone service use the service themselves and a call to their customer service department will give you a good indication of what to expect. You can use your high speed connection to surf or even play games and the broadband phone service does not seem to lose any quality. Unlike streaming music files or videos, for example, a simple phone conversation requires very little "bandwidth" or Internet usage. Since geographic location has no meaning on the Internet many providers offer the opportunity for the consumer to choose any area code for a local "home" number. If you mostly make and receive calls to a different city your broadband phone service provider can give you a number with that city's area code for your number - even overseas numbers. Additional phone numbers can usually be added in other area codes for a nominal cost.
The most common misconception about broadband phone service is that it uses or connects to your computer. Although you can use your computer to access some of the online service such as account management and voice e-mail, broadband phone service connections do not require your computer. When you subscribe you are sent a small internet phone adapter that looks like a modem and connects your phone to your internet connection. You can continue to use your regular phone or cordless phone. If you have more than one phone you may want to get a technician to install the broadband phone adapter in a central location - connected to all phones - or you can order multiple adapters. You can take the broadband phone adapter with you and it will act as your local phone number anywhere there is a high speed Internet connection. You could have your adapter plugged into a hotel internet connection and your family could call you locally from across the country.
Since the Internet knows no boundaries, most of the VOIP phone companies offer packages that include local calls and free north american long distance for $20.00-$35.00. Calling features are usually included for this price as is online account management. For a lower cost of $15.00 to $20.00 per month you can get a "starter" package that includes a limited number of minutes. Since there is no difference between local and long distance calls any cap on your account will include local calls as well as long distance. Additional numbers are usually $3.00 to $5.00 per month. Some providers are now offering a "Digital Phone Service" - sort of a hybrid between Voice over IP internet based telephony and traditional phone service - for between $30.00 and $40.00 per month.
Free trials and free equipment may be available. Some companies also offer ongoing free services with certain limitations. If it doesn't work for you don't be afraid to demand a refund of monies paid.
Most of the popular calling features as well as voicemail are usually included in the monthly VOIP phone service cost. Some service providers also offer internet based features such e-mail notifications, number blocking and voice e-mail. Many companies include the required equipment, but some do not. Be sure to check. There are generally no contracts, but it is always good to check this as well.
In some cases, 911 services may not operate with your VOIP phone service. Be sure to find out and take appropriate measures. If your Internet connection goes down, most broadband phone service providers offer a free forwarding service for incoming calls - to a cell phone for example. If you have an alarm system, the alarm company may need to adjust the programming in order for it to function. As well, your broadband phone adapter would need a connection to the alarm system. This is where a centralized installation of the broadband phone service adapter is useful. Talk to a VOIP provider for details. Lastly, unlike traditional phone service, which stays active during a power outage, broadband phone service is susceptable to power outages. This may provide additional complications regarding 911 and alarm monitoring services. Be sure to ask potential service providers about these important issues.
Be sure to evaluate all options before choosing a VOIP service.