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You’ve probably at least heard of the word “VoIP”, even if you didn’t quite understand what all the excitement is about. VoIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol” and is going to change the way you think about making long distance phone calls. Basically, VoIP technology turns analog audio signals (i.e. the sounds you hear when talking on your regular telephone) into a digital signal (which is then transmitted over the Internet.)

So why is VoIP revolutionizing the industry?

Because it means that by getting your hands on some of the free software that’s available right now, you can totally bypass your telephone company, and start making long distance phone calls for free! This revolutionary technology has the ability to totally change the phone system of the entire world! Perhaps you’ve seen television commercials for one of the pioneers of VoIP – Vonage. Vonage brands itself as the “broadband telephone company” and offers enticing perks to customers who switch to it’s VoIP service such as low-cost 800 numbers and very cheap international rates (fees are waived from the U.S. to Canada, and international calls are as low as .03 cents a minute to overseas locations such as Paris). But Vonage isn’t the only company who is interested in harnessing the power of VoIP. AT&T is setting up VoIP calling in several areas of the U.S. and there are other major VoIP players on the scene as well, such as Skype, who is relying on viral advertising to get the word out. Even some regional cable television companies are now offering VoIP telephone service at deep discounts to their customers.

One of the interesting components about VoIP is that there’s not just one way to make a VoIP call. There are actually three ways to make a VoIP call:

1) VoIP via ATA: is the most commonly used VoIP method right now. Using the ATA (analog telephone adaptor), you connect your regular telephone to your computer or Internet connection. The ATA is an analog-to-digital converter and it takes the analog signal from your phone and converts it into digital data and transmits it over the Internet so you are able to make VoIP calls. This is how Vonage and AT&T’s CallVantage handle VoIP calls. The ATA is free with their services. And using an ATA for VoIP is so simple that anyone can do it. Open the box, plug the cable from your phone into the ATA instead of the wall socket, and you’re ready to begin making VoIP calls. Depending on your computer, where you live, and what type of Internet connection you have, you may need to also install VoIP software onto your computer, but this shouldn’t be too difficult for most people.

2) VoIP via IP Phones:VoIP phones look just like a standard telephone. They have a handset, cradles and buttons. But an VoIP phone uses an RJ-45 Ethernet connector instead of the standard RJ-11 phone connectors. VoIP phones connect directly to your router and all the hardware and software is already built inside to handle your VoIP calls. Look for Wi-Fi IP phones to be available in the near future, which will allow you to make VoIP calls from any Wi-Fi hotspot. This will allow you to take your VoIP phone with you when you travel, and stop in at any Internet café, hotel or other location where you can use your Wi-Fi laptop, and you can use VoIP technology to “phone home” from anyplace in the world.

3) VoIP via Computer-to-Computer:This is arguably the easiest way to use VoIP. There are no fees for long distance calls and there are several companies offering free or low-cost software right now for you to make use of VoIP technology. All you need is the software, a microphone, speakers, a sound card and a broadband or cable DSL Internet connection, and you can start using VoIP service right away. Except for your normal monthly ISP fee, there is no charge for any computer-to-computer VoIP call, no matter how far away they are. http://www.skype.com is one such VoIP service. Chances are, you’ve already been using the VoIP technology without even being aware of it, any time you’ve made a long distance telephone call recently. Many of the major phone companies are already using VoIP technology to reduce their own bandwidth. It’s a simple matter of routing thousands of phone calls through a circuit switch and into an IP gateway. Once received on the other side of the gateway, the VoIP calls are decompressed, reassembled and routed back to a local circuit switch.

VoIP telephony is the wave of the future.

VoIP technology makes sense in terms of ROI, from both an economic and infrastructure point of view. It may take some time, but eventually all of the current circuit-switched networks that are in use today will be replaced by packet-switching VoIP technology. More and more businesses are already installing VoIP systems, and as VoIP technology makes its way into our everyday language, our lives, and our homes, it will continue to grow in popularity. According to Forrester Research, nearly 5 million U.S. households will have VoIP phone service by the end of 2006. The two biggest advantages of VoIP for home users are price and flexibility. Currently, most VoIP providers offer calling plans similar to that of cell-phone companies, which are commonly called “minute-rate” plans, for as little as $30 a month. And as with cell-phone plans, you can also get unlimited plans for around $79 a month.

With the elimination of long-distances charges, unregulated charges, and all the freebies that come standard with VoIP service, it can actually amount to a significant savings for you. For example, you may be paying extra for features like:

· Call waiting

· Three way calling

· Call forwarding

· Caller I.D.

· Repeat dial

· Last call return with VoIP

These services come standard. Plus there are some advanced features that make VoIP something worth looking into. With some VoIP carriers, you can set up call-filtering options and actually have some control over how calls from certain numbers are handled. For example, you can:

· Forward the call to a particular number

· Send the call directly to voicemail

· Give the caller a busy signal

· Play a “not in service” message with most VoIP services.

You can also check your voice mail on the Internet, or attach messages to an email that is sent directly to your computer or handheld. (By the way, if you’re interested in any of these features, not all VoIP companies are created equal, so do a little shopping around first, because VoIP prices and services do vary).

The second benefit that makes VoIP so attractive for home and small business users is flexibility. With VoIP you can make a call anywhere you can get broadband connectivity. Since the VoIP phones or ATAs broadcast information over the Internet, they can be administered by any provider. For business travelers, this means they can take their VoIP phone or ATA with them on the road and never miss a home phone call.

VoIP FAQ:

How does VoIP / Internet Phone Work?

VoIP converts the voice signal from your telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet. If you are calling a regular phone number, the signal is then converted back at the other end. VoIP can allow you to make a call directly from a computer. If you make a VoIP call using a phone with an adaptor, you’ll be able to dial just as you always have, and the service provider may also provide a dial tone. If your service assigns you a regular phone number, then a person can call you from his or her regular phone without using special equipment.

Does My Computer Have to be Turned On for VoIP to work?

Not if you are making VoIP calls with a phone and adaptor or special VoIP internet phone, however your broadband Internet connection needs to be active. You can also use your computer while talking on the phone.

Is There a Difference Between Making a Local Call and a Long Distance Call?

Some VoIP providers offer their local service for free, normally only charging for calls to non- subscribers to the VoIP service. Some VoIP internet telephony providers charge for long distance calls to numbers outside your calling area, similar to existing, traditional wireline telephone service. Other VoIP providers permit you to call anywhere at a flat rate for a fixed number of minutes. Your VoIP internet telephony provider may permit you to select an area code different from the area in which you live. This means that if your VoIP provider charges for long distance, then charges could be based on whether you call within your area code rather than geographic area. It also means that people who call you may incur long distance charges depending on their area code and service.

Can I Take My internet Phone Adapter with me when I Travel in order to use VoIP?

You may be able to use your VoIP service wherever you travel as long as you have a broadband Internet connection available. In that case VoIP service would work the same as in your home.

How Do I Know If I have a VoIP Phone Call?

The phone will ring like any other call.

Additional Considerations for VoIP service:

If you’re considering replacing your traditional telephone service with VoIP, there are some possible considerations you should be aware of: Some VoIP services will not work during power outages and the VoIP service provider may not offer backup power. It may also be difficult for some VoIP services to seamlessly connect with the 911 emergency dispatch center or to identify the location of VoIP 911 callers. In May 2005, the FCC ordered providers of Internet-based phone calls to certify that their customers will be able to reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911.

Dispatchers also must be able to identify the caller’s phone number and location. You can review additional information about VoIP and 911 considerations at [http://www.911voip.org] VoIP providers may or may not offer directory assistance/white page listings. Aspects of these considerations may change with new development in Internet Voice technology. You should always check with the potential VoIP service provider to confirm any advantages and limitations to the VoIP service they offer.