How does VoIP work?

VoIP converts the voice signal from your telephone into a digital signal that travels over the Internet. If you are calling a regular telephone number, the signal is then converted back at the other end. When you get a regular telephone number with your service, you can receive calls from anyone with an ordinary telephone.

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What are the benefits of VoIP?

VoIP is a great way to save money on monthly phone bills. Consumer Reports states that VoIP can “save consumers about $400 a year, since monthly plans start at about $20 a month, include unlimited local and long-distance calling and are not as heavily taxed as conventional phone services.” This is especially true if you want to keep in touch with friends and family across the country and/or around the world. VoIP offers cheap long distance, a variety of calling plans, improved service, and international calls that are included at no-extra-cost in many monthly plans. VoIP providers also offer online account management, which lets you access your voice messages (or have them emailed to you), conduct call forwarding, and keep track of your calls.

Do I need any special kind of equipment?

All you need is a broadband Internet connection and AC power. These days, you don’t have to hook a microphone up to your computer—there are several cordless phones on the market that will work—just make sure they are VoIP-enabled. Motorola’s T31 phone ( is an interesting option, letting you make completely free Internet phone calls to any MSN Live Messenger subscriber—that’s over 40 million people.

What should I worry about?

If the power or Internet goes out, you won’t be able to make VoIP calls, so hook your modem, router, and VoIP adapter up to power supplies with battery backups. Another common worry is Emergency 911 dialing capabilities, though these have dramatically improved in recent months. The FCC now mandates that VoIP providers offer e911 capabilities. Check with your VoIP provider for specifics to ensure e911 service.

How are the quality and reliability of VoIP service?

The quality and reliability of VoIP providers has been approaching near-landline quality and is expected to improve in the future. However, new users can expect some signal issues to pop up. The frequency of such issues will depend on your provider and will need to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Do I have to leave my computer on all the time?

As long as your broadband connection is live and you are making calls with a VoIP adaptor or VoIP phone, your computer can be turned off.

Can I keep my existing phone number?


Can I talk on the phone and surf the Web simultaneously?


Can I use VoIP when I travel?

Wireless “hot spots” in public places such as parks, café’s, and airports may enable you to use VoIP service wirelessly. Additionally, you can bring your VoIP adaptor with you when you travel and maintain the same phone number. All you need is a high speed Internet connection, which is a fairly common feature in hotels these days.

Will I be charged differently for local vs. long-distance VoIP calls?

Be sure to read your provider’s guidelines for long-distance calling, as they vary widely. Some providers offer free calling to other subscribers of the same service, while others charge for long-distance calls regardless of who you’re calling. Others still will let you call anywhere for a set number of minutes per month. One neat thing about VoIP, however, is that you can often choose an area code for your phone number, regardless of your location—say a Florida area code, even though you live in New Jersey, so that when family and friends in Florida call you, it will save them long-distance charges.