What are VoIP and Internet Calls?
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. In common terms, VoIP describes phone services delivered over the internet. VoIP phone services require a good internet connection and can be used anywhere this is available. Using VoIP, both voice and multimedia phone services can be delivered over Local Area Networks (LANs) and broadband internet connections. According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are over 960,000 VoIP subscriptions in Wisconsin as of June 2021.
VoIP and internet calls are the same and the terms may be used interchangeably. They refer to the delivery of multimedia communications over IP-based networks as opposed to the transmission over voice traffic over the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). VoIP or internet calls use packet switching technology to transmit audio and video data during calls.
How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?
Today's traditional telephony through landline and cell phones use the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) which provides users with dedicated end-to-end circuit connections for the duration of their calls. When you dial a number, the tones you hear are the signals being sent down twisted copper wires connecting your phone directly to a local exchange. The local exchange is a switch that listens to the tones sent from your phone, interprets the address of the destination requested, and routes the call accordingly.
Depending on the final destination, your call may pass through several switches and exchanges as it moves from circuit to circuit across networks. This process is repeated until it reaches the final local exchange and is once again passed down the twisted copper wire to the telephone of the called party. The entire process is based on circuit-switching technology which uses telephone numbers as unique identifiers to locate and connect to destination lines.
Although it is required that PSTN has to open circuits between exchanges as calls are routed through the network, it is more important that circuits stay open so the analog signals may be sent directly to the device at the other end.
In VoIP, calls are not routed along a dedicated wire to a local exchange. VoIP or internet calls use the packet switching technology that enables real-time transmission of voice signals as packetized data over IP networks. Over an IP network, the information is digitized and transmitted as a stream of packets over a network. The packets of data contain all the information (an IP address) needed to route the call to the precise destination device and the data bits that will be reconstructed at the destination device to sound exactly like the voice of the caller.
Unlike in PSTN, the transmission of VoIP data packets does not need a dedicated circuit to remain open during the call. Data packets originating from a single source are likely to travel different routes to the destination.
VoIP offers several advantages over traditional telephony, such as:
- Flexibility: VoIP calls can be made from several kinds of devices such as VoIP phones, tablets, and computers. Even a landline can make VoIP calls if it is connected to an analog telephone adapter (ATA).
- Mobility: VoIP services can be used anywhere provided a steady broadband internet connection is available. A VoIP number can be used outside where it was obtained. It may be used on travels such as business trips and vacations. With traditional telephony, a user may have to obtain a new number upon traveling to a new country.
- Low cost: Because calls take place over the internets, VoIP users are only charged for internet access rather than for call minutes or extra services. In traditional telephony, utilizing additional phone services like call transferring or queuing can run up costs. Maintenance cost is also cheaper both for service providers and users of VoIP solutions.
- Superior voice quality: Sound quality is generally clearer with VoIP than on analog phone lines. However, this depends on your internet connection. A slow internet connection can negatively impact the quality of an internet call but a strong connection typically produces clear, consistent sound quality.
- Better functionality: VoIP offers more functionalities than landlines by allowing users to make video calls and transmit multimedia messages. Other functionalities available on VoIP solutions include features like voicemail, anonymous call rejection, call analytics, and voicemail-to-text transcription.
- Better Technology Integration: VoIP solutions are compatible with the latest technologies. VoIP works through or on smartphones, state-of-the-art headsets, and other computer accessories. Many cutting-edge technologies use the human voice for better interactivity. Such technologies will work better with a VoIP system than traditional telephony.
Does Wisconsin Regulate VoIP Providers?
VoIP providers are required to register with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) and file brief annual questionnaires on intrastate revenues before operating in the state. VoIP providers are subject to assessment for the Wisconsin Universal Service Fund and for Commission expenses in accordance with Section 196.85 of the Wisconsin Statutes. However, the Wisconsin PSC does not regulate the rates, terms, and conditions of VoIP providers' offerings or any other facets of their operations.
What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?
If you are making an internet call from a mobile device, you will require a fast network such as a 4G or 5G internet connection. VoIP calls over wired connections will require fiber-optic and Ethernet connections. Other tools that may be required for a VoIP call depend on the device from which the call will be made.
Landlines: You will require an analog-to-telephone adapter (ATA) and a compatible telephone box to make a VoIP call over a landline. The adapter connects the telephone to a router or a wall phone socket.
Computers: To make internet calls on a computer, you need to possess a microphone, headset, speakers, and install VoIP software on the computer. Examples of desktop VoIP software are Skype and Zoom.
Smartphones: VoIP calls on smartphones require VoIP apps such as Skype, Viber, Facetime, and WhatsApp. You can find any of these applications on popular online mobile application stores.
Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?
VoIP numbers are considered real telephone numbers and share the same 10 digits with regular phone numbers. Nonetheless, there are some basic differences between the two, including:
- VoIP numbers are not tied to physical phone lines. You can take a VoIP number with you when you move away, work from home, or change countries. On the other hand, regular phone numbers are tied to a phone line or SIM card.
- VoIP numbers can be used anywhere provided fast internet connections are available. Regular phone numbers can only be used within areas covered by the networks of the service providers that issued those numbers.
- VoIP numbers may be used on several devices at the same time.
Note that reverse phone lookup services can help identify unknown callers with regular and VoIP numbers.
Can You Make Free Internet Calls?
Yes. The basic requirement for making a free VoIP call is to have a VoIP app or adapter that makes free phone calls. You can achieve this in any of the following ways:
- App to Phone: These applications allow you to make free internet calls from smartphones to regular phone numbers.
- App to App: These applications enable devices such as smartphones and tablet devices to make free internet calls between devices with the same applications installed.
- PC to Phone: These applications enable you to make free internet calls from PCs to regular telephone numbers.
- PC to PC: The same VoIP software installed on two different PCs allow users of both PCs to make free internet calls to each other.