How many ways do you know to make a Voice over IP call? With its use of telephony, IT and the Internet, VoIP provides considerable flexibility in the user interface. Let’s start off with one that is so familiar to so many – the ordinary telephone. With an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) you can plug in a standard phone on one side and an Internet connection on the other. This is a common feature in residential Internet packs, for example with a combined Wi-Fi router and phone adapter. When you make a call, you’ll hear (some sort of) dial tone. You dial your number and ATA takes care of initiating the Internet connection and keeping it open until you hand up. For users, it looks very similar to conventional telephony, but is typically much cheaper.
From Conventional Phones to Mobile Phones
If you can save money using VoIP and conventional phones, how about mobiles? The high roaming charges that some mobile operators levy could make VoIP calls even more attractive. VoIP mobile phones exist, in particular the dual-mode mobile phone with both a standard mobile phone radio and also a Wi-Fi radio. With the right software, this phone can identify possibilities to connect to a Wi-Fi network, like the one in your home, at your office or in a coffee-shop, for example. If it finds such a Wi-Fi access point, your phone call becomes a VoIP call (free). If you move out of range, the standard mobile network takes over (paying).
VoIP Phones, Wi-Fi Phones and Skype-phones
The purpose-built VoIP phone for businesses doesn’t need an adapter either. It plugs directly into the Internet or business intranet. Desktop models may offer multiple phone lines (the advantage of VoIP packet-based communications), small video screens for video calls and other functions – including blocking anonymous calls, which is like anti-spam for phones! Wi-Fi phones use the wireless network to connect. They typically look like smartphones, but don’t have the mobile radio built-in. However, they allow users to roam the home or the office and phone from any Wi-Fi access point or repeater. Finally, Skypephones specifically use the Skype network to call other Skype users, whether they are also using phones or simply using Skype on their PCs. Depending on the Skypephone and service, it may also be possible to make standard mobile calls to non-Skype users at mobile call rates.
Softphones and More
If your PC has speakers and a microphone, it can double as your VoIP phone. Using the IT that powers VoIP calls, various programmers and vendors have built ‘application programming interfaces’ (APIs) for programs in a PC to use VoIP services. The softphone is just one example of a program that uses the API to make and receive your VoIP calls. The same API can be used by instant messaging applications to add real time voice communications to their possibilities, networked video games and any other application where an option to ‘click to call’ can be useful.
Which Solution Should You Choose?
Each of the VoIP call methods above has its pros and cons. You may already have a conventional phone lying around unused in which case your extra outlay is zero. But that phone must be connected by a physical cable to your Internet gateway. Mobile phones and Wi-Fi phones may run out of battery power, but you benefit from mobility. VoIP desktop phones may be packed with functionality, but cannot be connected to the conventional phone network to maintain communications if there is a power cut. And softphones, while often free to install, may suffer if the PC running them becomes overloaded through running too many applications at the same time. So what’s the answer? It’s simple. First, consider what your needs are. Then pick the type of VoIP phone that best meets them.