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Voice Over IP Explainer

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Internet calling is older than you may think. It began in the early 1970s, but did not start to breakthrough until the mid 1990s—and it was not until the introduction of Skype in the early 2000s when it was more widely adopted.

The definitive choice for audio or phone service is now—and has been—VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol. This is the primary method for businesses and consumers use to communicate, and with many benefits, features, and cost-savings, VoIP is a powerful tool in today’s world. 

Most people do not realize they have a VoIP system in their home, but this has been the method used by providers for years. This will take your phone calls and route them over the internet using Ethernet cables or even Wi-Fi. Many cellular telephones even take advantage of this technology using connected Wi-Fi networks to transmit calls—this is especially useful when cellular reception is poor at home or in the office. Additionally, many gamers have utilized VoIP since the early 2000s with the introduction of Xbox Live.

A VoIP system not only facilitates calls and routing, but it provides many other features such as auto attendants, voicemail, and call forwarding. When used in a commercial environment or business, it will provide features beyond the ability of older analog systems, and at a fraction of the cost. 

One of the best features, many will argue, is the extended audio bandwidth of calls versus the traditional analog lines allowing for a much higher and more noticeable quality of sound. However, the primary downside to VoIP is the requirement of a high-speed internet connection, which is not available to all—especially in rural areas.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is often confused with VoIP. The main thing to know is that SIP is the protocol behind VoIP—it is similar to SMTP and email.  

In a simplistic explanation, SIP gives a device such as a phone an address or a unique identity to allow for calling using VoIP. Similar to email, by having a SIP address, login credentials, and internet, you can login from about anywhere. In today’s environment, a VoIP system is ideal for business as it will allow for a remote home office with easy setup.  

In a modern business environment VoIP, along with other tools, can bring a secure unified communications platform to any workplace. The ability to have one number ring multiple devices, link video meetings, utilize mobile or desktop applications, and simplified conference calling are all made possible because of VoIP technology. Many businesses find VoIP easier to manage as a part of one larger network where phone extensions can be easily added, moved, or changed.