The term "VoIP" stands for voice over Internet protocol. This technology allows you to make calls over the Internet instead of through the local phone company by converting your voice into a digital signal. Using VoIP often saves money because there are little or no monthly fees involved. Since VoIP lacks some of the features of traditional phone services, some people opt to add VoIP to their existing service.
Some VoIP services require a computer, VoIP software, a microphone and high-speed Internet connection. These types of services require you to turn on your computer before you can use the phone. Other VoIP services don't operate from your computer, but require a special VoIP phone or a regular phone and an adapter that accesses the Internet through your modem. Before signing up for any service, read the guidelines carefully so you will know what equipment you need.
Some services are free, but others charge a flat monthly fee that is typically lower than the traditional phone service fee. Depending on the VoIP provider, you may be able to make free long distance calls, or the provider may charge a long-distance fee similar to traditional phone services. Some providers allow you to call anyone with a phone number, while others limit you to calling only customers that use their service.
One of the advantages of VoIP is that, in many cases, it eliminates the need for traditional phone service. VoIP also makes it is easy to conduct business away from home if you have a good Internet connection. VoIP allows the use of your computer while talking on the phone. The disadvantages of VoIP are that some services don't allow calls to 911 emergency services or 411 directory assistance. Additionally, VoIP may not work during power outages. Using VoIP can also use up bandwidth, which can cause problems with your phone connection.
Providers such as Skype, MSN Voice Chat and Yahoo Messenger use proprietary software, meaning you can only talk to other users who use the same provider. Skype users can't talk to MSN Voice Chat users, and vice versa. Other providers operate much like traditional phone service, allowing users to talk to anyone who has a phone number. Vonage, VoIP.com and Google Voice fall into this category.
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