It is quite obvious that the internet has truly revolutionized communication. While it is easy to see its impact on information sharing through search engines or ocial networking sites, it has also revolutionized how people make phone calls. VoIP (Voice over IP) uses internet protocol to make voice calls. It has made phone calls a lot cheaper. However, not all VoIP services are the same. Use this guide to find the right VoIP’s services for your particular situation and needs.
November 23, 2011
Phone.com is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and communication solutions for Small Business, Home Business or Personal Use by Publisher Phone.com, Inc.
October 04, 2011
Skype is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and communication solutions for Home and Business users by Publisher Skype Limited.
August 28, 2011
Phone Power is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and communication solutions for Home and Business users by Publisher Phone Power.
November 23, 2011
Lingo is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and communication solutions for Home and Business users by Publisher Lingo, Inc.
November 24, 2011
Via Talk is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and communication solutions for Small Business, Home Business or Personal Use by Publisher ViaTalk, Inc.
August 28, 2011
Phone Power is a VoIP Service with Voice over Internet Protocol plans and other communication solutions for Office, Mobile, Fax and 800 Numbers, for Home and Business users by Publisher RingCentral, Inc.
What is VoIP?
The internet has truly revolutionized how we communicate. In addition to making our social interaction much more efficient and viral through social networking, the internet has also changed how we gather and create information through search engines and online publishing such as blogging. While these changes are clearly dramatic and earth-moving, the internet’s impact on voice calls cannot be understated. Previously, it was very expensive to make voice calls because you have to use a format or a protocol that was quite expensive. Toll charges made traditional voice calls also expensive. With the launch of Voice over IP, voice calls can be made over IP connections. Since IP connections do not respect toll zones or area codes, this has dramatically reduced the pricing for interstate calls and international calls. Calls that would historically cause several dollars can now be made for a few pennies. That is the power of Voice over IP. When trying to decide which service to go with, there are certain key considerations that you should keep in mind because not all these services operate the same way or pack the same features.
Making the switch
Many people are naturally averse to technology and some view VoIP with some trepidation and reluctance. There is really nothing to be afraid of. Placing VoIP calls is fairly simple once you get the hang of it. It is just basically using your computer connection to make the calls. Setup and placing calls are the common areas where people have expressed reluctance with VoIP. Placing calls is fairly straightforward once you learn the basic sequence of operations for placing and receiving calls over VoIP. Setup is also quite simple if you just follow the common VoIP installation instructions. They also have a reliable customer support team, who are always available for assistance, so you are not on your own. There will always be somebody to help you through the process, in case you need it.
VoIP Service Selection Criteria
Keep these factors in mind when comparing VoIP services: try to match it with your own particular needs as well as your particular technical background and level of proficiency. Picking the right VoIP service and enjoying the tremendous savings they offer is truly just a function of matching a particular service with your particular need.
Installing VoIP service is usually the part of the process that many users encounter the most difficulty with. To avoid this, you just have to make sure you consider the installation requirements that best fit your needs.
Hardware or Not
First of all, look for a service that either doesn’t require a phone adapter, or gives you a phone adapter for free. This phone adapter is a unit that plugs in to your phone and your computer. Most services have this. Be careful of a service that doesn’t supply a phone adapter when it requires hardware. There are VoIP services that are purely software-driven like Skype. So by definition, it doesn’t need a phone adapter. However, be on the lookout for VoIP services that require hardware but don’t supply the hardware.
The next consideration is the activation fee. The service activation fees vary depending on the service. From Phone Power, NetZero to Skype, these firms require quite a bit of money to activate your account and set you up on their system. So pay attention on how much they charge to set you up and activate your system.
Finally, when it comes to installation, be mindful of cancellation fees. There are some services that don’t have a cancellation fee, although many do. Be aware if they charge a cancellation fee and keep in mind how much it is. Factor this into your particular forecast of your planned phone usage, and how long you plan to stay in the system because if you are only going to use the VoIP system for a very short amount of time and the cancellation fee is quite high, you might be end up losing money. Most programs would waive the cancellation fee if you have used the service for a certain amount of time already. For example, if you stay with a service for 12 months and decide to cancel, there will be no cancellation fee. Be always mindful of the cancellation fee and what the exact conditions are involved.
Compare service plan fees and the minute and time limitations.
Not all VoIP services offer free unlimited calls. There are other web services that put a cap on how many calls you can make and how much call time you have. Given the abundance of web services that offer unlimited calling, disregard service providers that cap your minutes. You should stay away from these service providers because this truly defeats the purpose. One of the greatest attractions of web services to begin with is unlimited calling. The same analysis place out with long distance calls. When making outgoing long distance calls, it should be free. In traditional phone systems, that’s how telephone companies used to make the bulk of their money – through toll charges. VoIP has largely done away with that and that’s one of its largest attractions. If you are considering a VoIP service that doesn’t provide free long distance calls, then again this defeats the purpose of going with a VoIP. Consider also other programs that feature free long distance calls.
Other features that you should be on the lookout for are free international calls, free calls to Canada and Puerto Rico, free in-network calls, and business plans. Since these features are so common among many VoIP providers, you should insist on getting all these featured in your VoIP plan. If ever your particular needs allow you to dispense some of these features, make sure that you get something in return. In exchange for the strip down calling features you should at least be saving money on either the installation or the monthly recurring fee, or both. So if you need less features, that is absolutely fine. However, make sure that you get to have free unlimited calls and free long distance interstate calls.
Calling Feature Considerations
Be on the lookout for VoIP services that don’t carry a calling feature which you would normally have with regular phones. Regular phone features include Voicemail, Caller Id, Three-way Calling, Speed Dialling, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, and Call Return(*69). These are features that are offered in standard phones for extra fees. Many VoIP service providers offer these for free so if you come across a VoIP service provider that doesn’t, weigh the value of its other offerings with the cost of these features being missing. If the voice service, for example, is very cheap and offers free international, local and interstate calls but doesn’t have call waiting and *69, it may not be a deal breaker depending on your particular situation. Just weigh the value of these features against the value of the overall plan.
Here is a quick explanation of these features:
- Voicemail allows you to store calls in a centralized number in which you can call that number anytime to retrieve the stored messages by your callers
- Caller Id allows you to see who is calling before you pick up the call
- Three-way calling allows you to contact two people so that you could conference on the same call
- Speed dialling is like a phonebook marking system. You just click a code and it will automatically dial the number. This helps you avoid the hassle of having to rip out a phonebook or having to memorize a particular number.
- Call forwarding allows you to forward a call to the number you are currently using
- Call return (*69) allows you to automatically return a call to a person by pressing *69, when somebody calls you and you missed it
Special Calling Features
The previous bundle of calling features we discussed above, for the most part, is standard on many VoIP service providers. However, there are also enhanced calling features that you should be mindful of which you might need for particular uses. These features are: Call Transfer, Call Blocking, 911 services, Do not disturb feature, Free 411 directory assistance, and Find me system. Your particular 911 in a regular phone service is a free feature. 411 Directory Assistance is free up to a certain extent with regular phones. However, for VoIP systems many of these are premium features and while a few have all of these features, there are quite a few that don’t. So depending on how much you need particular enhanced calling functionalities, you might need to base your selection on your plan coverage.
- Call transfer allow you to transfer calls from one phone to another
- Call blocking allows you to block certain numbers
- 911 services allow you to dial 911 for emergencies and security issues
- Do not disturb feature block calls temporarily when you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed
- 411 Directory Assistance allows you to dial 411 and to look up a number to call. This is quite handy however not all services carry it and the ones that do don’t always offer it for free. So if you see yourself calling 411 quite a bit, look for free 411 Directory Assistance.
- Lastly, Find me feature allows your caller to locate your exact whereabouts.
Phone number features
VoIP services also vary on how they assign and process phone numbers. Many VoIP services users want to be able to choose their phone’s area code for one obvious reason – it is easier to access phone calls from regular phone systems. Having an out of area code number makes it more expensive to reach your VoIP service number. This is non-negotiable. If you run across a VoIP service provider that doesn’t offer this feature for free, look for another provider. The same goes for online account management. You should be able to access your VoIP system through the internet so you can track statistics, make adjustments, or even renew your service. Again, this is non-negotiable. Online account access allows you a greater flexibility and allows you to check your account from anywhere in the world.
Besides the core features we discussed above, another key area that you may want to consider is a whole range of additional services. This includes adding a line – a toll free number system. This is a great service to have if you are running a business. If you have many friends that have standard phone services and don’t use VoIP services, having a toll free number will make you quite popular. Also, while it is good to have a free 411 directory assistance in the service bundle we described above, there are certain situations where you may need to pay for a directory assistance, so you might have to consider this and compare service providers accordingly. And finally, not all VoIP service providers offer fax support. Make sure the number that you get can process fax calls, if you either run a business or you need this particular service.
The Bottom Line
VoIP services have truly revolutionized how people use the phone. It has resulted in substantial savings. Long distance calls are now a lot cheaper, easier and more accessible. However, they are not all the same. Consider the feature clusters discussed above so you can avoid either selecting a service provider that doesn’t fully meet all your long distance calling needs or having to pay too much. There are many VoIP service bundles that seem so comprehensive. However, if most of the services are irrelevant to you, you might end up paying for a premium that you don’t really need. Use our service to get the best bang for your VoIP buck.