Voice over IP technology has existed for years now. The phone companies use it themselves to route your calls around the country, but it's finally going main stream. Many companies are offering this service to residential customers, but if you are not a real techno-head you may be asking just what is Voice over IP?
Voice over IP or VoIP is simply a way to transmit voice over the internet the same way we transmit web pages and email. Some VoIP providers supply you with a special telephone that you plug into your network at home just like your computers plug in to share your internet connection. Others will give you a converter device that plugs into your network. You plug your existing telephone into the converter and it converts your analog telephone signal to a digital signal and sends it over the internet. Once your VoIP phone or phone/converter combination is setup all your phone calls travel over the internet and not over the traditional phone lines in your house.
The only real requirement for VoIP service is that you have a broadband internet connection. Road Runner and Earthlink Cable Modem connections are sufficient as is a DSL connection from Alltel or MyLinuxISP.
There are plenty of nice features available with VoIP service as well. Number one is you can have your existing phone number moved to your VoIP service. You get the standard features like call waiting and caller id. Some services also provide a simultaneous ring. This allows you to have your new VoIP phone and your cell phone ring at the same time. Which ever phone you answer first gets the call. You can have voice mail that sends your messages as sound file attachments to your email inbox. You can even add phone numbers to your line from area codes around the country. So if you live in Sugar Land, but have relatives in San Antonio, you could have your normal phone number plus a 210 number for San Antonio for just a few extra dollars a month. This allows your friends and family there to call you without paying long distance charges. Also, many VoIP plans offer unlimited long distance to the U.S. and Canada. Another neat feature is that you can take your VoIP phone or converter with you when you travel. Simply plug it into a broadband connection wherever you are and your home phone goes with you.
From a computer guy perspective, one of the best benefits is this. Sign up for VoIP service and you no longer need those phone wires in your walls. What are they good for now? They are good for networking. All those old phone jacks can be replaced with computer network jacks so you can network any room in your house that has an existing phone jack.
By now you may be thinking "okay, but what does VoIP cost?". In many cases... less than your existing phone service; especially if you use a lot of long distance within the U.S. and Canada. Vonage.com offers an unlimited minutes plan with long distance included for less than $30 per month. I know that beats my Alltel bill by a long shot.
If you want some real technical details on the VoIP technology, go to howstuffworks.com and search for VoIP.