In order to answer the question, 'What do I need for VoIP?', you need to be aware that there are a number of ways VoIP can be set up and used. Depending on what method you choose to use VoIP, you will need a different set up. The various methods of using VoIP are listed below:
Each method is explained in detail below:
The first (and cheapest) way to use VoIP is from PC to PC. With this method you can make free Internet phone calls. All that is required is a PC connected to a broadband internet connection, and a headset consisting of earphones and microphone connected to the soundcard of your computer.
You will also need to download and install VoIP software. The most popular software is called Skype. Gizmo, Free World Dialup, and Net2Phone are some of the other big names. With the software installed, invite all your friends to download the same software and when someone is up and running, give them a call!
VoIP software is free to download, and allows you to make completely free VoIP calls to other users of the same software, regardless of distance. Free VoIP calls can be made anywhere in the world using the PC to PC method.
Features such as call display, call forwarding, voicemail, and conference calls are included at no extra charge as long as both parties are using computers.
VoIP software, (also known as ‘soft phones’) such as Skype, can also be used to connect to land-line phones - that is, phones which are not connected directly to the Internet. This type of call is usually not free but the cost is much lower than what your telephone company would charge you. Also, some VoIP services allow you to make calls to cellular phones. People receiving land-line or cellular calls do not need any extra equipment or software. The only time that both parties would need a particular VoIP software/soft-phone is when they are making PC to PC calls.
A step up from headsets is Internet phones. These feel a lot more like 'real' telephones - they ring, they have regular number pads, and you use them like traditional telephones. They plug into the USB port or sound card of your computer. These phones are still considered soft phones because you need VoIP software installed on your computer to make and receive telephone calls.
The next (and most common) way to use VoIP is by using a traditional analogue phone. Instead of plugging your phone into the usual telephone adapter in the wall, it needs to be plugged into an Analogue Telephone Adapter (ATA). The purpose of an ATA is to convert the analogue signal (your voice) into digital data, ready to be sent over the internet. An ATA is simple to use. It connects to a broadband modem - either a DSL modem connected to your traditional phone line or a cable modem which attaches to your cable TV connection. Any traditional analogue telephone can be plugged into an ATA. You do not even need a computer in the house to use this type of VoIP connection.
Another requirement for setting up VoIP in this way is that you will need to set up an account with a VoIP Service Provider, such as Vonage, or Packet8. VoIP Service Providers offer a variety of low cost services, and once you register with a provider, you will be able to make VoIP calls. ATA's are usually provided free of charge when you sign up with a VoIP service provider.
Using an ATA for Internet phone calls is transparent. You simply pick up the phone and dial a number just as you would with your regular phone service. Anybody calling your phone number will not be aware that you are using VoIP instead of PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).
As previously mentioned, this is the most common way VoIP is being used, as it allows you to continue using equipment you already have and saves you buying lots of newer equipment.
To summarise ATA, the only requirements for this method are a traditional analogue phone, a broadband connection, an ATA device to connect your phone to the broadband modem, and finally, an account with a VoIP Service Provider.
The final way to set up VoIP is by using an IP Phone. Don't confuse IP phones and Internet Phones. IP phones plug directly into the modem, but Internet phones plug into the sound card or USB port of your computer. An IP Phone will look similar to a traditional analogue telephone. The main difference is that it can be connected directly to a broadband modem. It will also contain the extra circuitry to convert the sound of your voice into digital data ready to be transmitted to the recipient via the internet.
IP phones also have the advantage of having all your phone numbers stored in the phone as well as a display screen which gives you information about incoming calls. As with the previous method, you will also need to set up an account with a VoIP Service Provider, such as Vonage or Packet8. These providers may also supply you with IP Phones when you sign up.
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