VoIP (Voice Over IP) Explained

Telephone calls through broadband: this is the future of telephony. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology represents a revolution in the way we communicate. Here's an outline of three of the most common ways that VoIP can be used to make cheap phone calls.

You've probably heard about new technology that allows people to use broadband to make cheap phone calls. Perhaps you already make calls or video-calls yourself from your computer. Whatever you know already, it helps to have a clear, basic grasp of how exciting new generation of telephone services works and how it can be used.

The technical name for making cheap phone calls using broadband is 'Voice over Internet Protocol'. Some people call it 'Voice over IP', or even 'VoIP' (say "voyp"). Perhaps you've heard of 'VoIP phones'. VoIP is, basically, the umbrella term for the technology for making telephone calls using the Internet and broadband. It uses audio systems to encode speech in a way that means that it can be transmitted digitally over an Internet Protocol network.

There are many ways of using VoIP technology and a broadband connection to make phone calls. Here are three of the most common.

1. PC to PC
The first, simplest and typically free way to use VoIP is 'PC to PC'. For this, you'll need to be at your computer, as will the person you're calling. You'll also need a headset / microphone / speaker. And you'll need either USB VoIP phone, which plugs into your computer's USB socket. If you do not have that, you can install or download a piece of software called a 'softphone'. This allows VoIP calling without dedicated equipment. Although this is undetected the cheapest way to make VoIP calls, the call quality is often not great. And you're tied to your computer.

2. PC to Phone
The second popular way to use voice over IP is by using your PC or computer to call a normal landline or mobile phone. The advantage of this is that the person you're calling does not need to have signed up with the same service, does not need all the equipment etc. You, though, will be charged for these 'outage' calls. And you are, as above, tied to your PC.

3. Phone to Phone
A VoIP provider sends you a VoIP adapter. You use this to connect your normal digital cordless ('DECT') telephone to the broadband modem / router on your computer. Once you've installed the VoIP provider's software (this converts the analog signal to a digital one), you continue to use your phone exactly as before, using your existing broadband connection to make cheap telephone calls. To call, you pick up your existing digital cordless (DECT) phone and dial as normal. Your computer does not even need to be switched on. When their phone rings at the other end, they answer as normal.

The beauty of this final method of using voice over IP is that your computer does not even have to be switched on for you to use the VoIP technology and broadband to make calls. The person you're calling does not have to have signed up to the same VoIP provider. Nor do they need to have broadband, or be at their computer. In fact, they do not even need to have a computer.

So there it is – three of the most common ways in which you can now use VoIP technology to make cheap phone calls.