Shopping For Internet Phone Service?

Internet phone serviceAre you shopping for Internet phone service?  If so, knowledge is power and you are about to get armed to teeth before you go shopping.  After all, why would you shop for something that you know little about in all actuality?  With that in mind, let’s start understanding Internet phone service with an overview of the basics before we move up to more advanced knowledge:

Internet Phone Service 101: What Is It?

Internet phone service pretty much says what it does, but not necessarily what it is.  What it does is simple: it takes the telephone calls we are used to and transmits them over the Internet via a technology that is referred to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  VoIP technology is not actually a single ratified standard, but is an entire family of standards that may differ from one company to the next, so do not be confused into thinking that one VoIP system is inherently equal to another.  Instead, it would be fair to consider VoIP a family of standards in much the same way that we can consider the V8 a family of car engines; just like engines, different companies sell them in different sizes, configurations, and types to meet different needs.

This begs the obvious follow-up question: what does Internet phone service look like.  Well, the answer to that is complex and we already know the reason why: the types of vehicles that a V8 can be put into vary wildly from sports cars to massive sport utility vehicles.  In a similar fashion, the family of systems that use and underlying VoIP technology to be classified as Internet phone services can be anything from traditional telephones like we are all accustomed to, to special high-tech phones that plug into networking equipment, to software programs running on computers, to very high-tech specialized networking systems that are designed for larger businesses.

Internet Phone Service 102: VoIP for the Masses

Most consumers are going to be looking for an Internet phone service that fits into one of the following categories: totally transparent, software, or a network device.  The totally transparent system is one where there is a networking device installed on the phone line itself, usually at the outside of the property so that the entire phone wiring within the house is connected directly to an Internet phone service with VoIP technology without even knowing it!  End users can still use their existing phones and never be the wiser, though they are likely to hear more clarity on their line if their phones are high quality.

Software based Internet phones require a computer, smartphone, tablet, or other device to use but are essentially programs that ride an Internet connection.  Remember that the word Internet is part of the acronym VoIP for a reason, and we are going to cover that in just a moment in more detail.  Hardware versions, such as network devices, are specialized phones that are designed to plug directly into a standard network plug and work directly over a broadband connection just like their software counterparts.  The only difference is that with the hardware version, your computer or other device is not necessary because you have an actual physical device that serves the sole purpose of handling your Internet calls.  The upside to this is that your physical device is usually very modern and capable of producing great quality sound both on its speakers and via the microphone.  One of the main advantages of VoIP, as we are about to learn, is that of sound clarity

Internet Phone Service 201: Internet Power, Reach, and Bits

The power of the Internet to reshape how we communicate is literally unrivaled.  One of the key reasons that the Internet is simply dominating the antiquated telephone network (which is often called POTS for Plain Old Telephone System) is that the Internet is very flexible.  The Internet carriers all sorts of data all over the world and is inherently designed to move that data as expediently and reliably as practical, which is in stark contrast to the POTS network that was designed to move only audio data in electrical form via a predetermined set of switches and routed points.  Any breakdown or overload in these points resulted in calls that could not complete or would possibly drop.

A dedicated network is certainly a great idea, so long as the network is modern and updated.  The POTS network is not out of data, but it is certainly not as fundamentally new as the Internet is, nor is it modified and upgraded as frequently.  Moreover, you pay the premium price for that specialization because only audio data moves over that network.  This is why long distance calls used to be so expensive, but Internet phone services can sell the same calls at higher audio quality because the network already has deep reach into so many cities around the world.

On the subject of audio quality, the Internet moves so much data in such an efficient way that the engineers developing VoIP systems have set their minimum expectations far higher than those engineers did way back in the day when the POTS network was being developed.  The result is that higher bit rates, or the amount of audio data sent and received, results in much clearer calls regardless of the distances

photo by: Pete Prodoehl