The Quick Start Guide to VOIP for the Home, Home Office, and Small Business

Introduction to VoIP...in Three Minutes or Less

Here's the three-minute elevator introduction to VoIP. You're sure to have heard of it by now. And if not "VoIP", then surely "broadband telephone service". Vonage and others like them are aggressively marketing and selling consumer VOIP services.

In a nutshell, VOIP is a set of applications that let you to make telephone calls over the Internet. The big telephone companies and long distance carriers have been using VOIP for a while for long haul or  "backbone" traffic on their network. But only recently has VOIP come all the way to the consumer. Some say it is already threatening to replace existing telephone networks. People and businesses have even opted to cancel their traditional phone line and use VoIP instead.

VoIP was originally developed to provide voice communication between computer users in different locations. Someone on a computer equipped with a microphone and headset can talk to another computer user likewise equipped.

Although VOIP is still strong in this application (Skype, Gizmo Project, and GoogleTalk are a few big names doing PC-to-PC calls), VOIP has also developed into a more conventional-looking telephone network. This is where VOIP broadband phone providers like Vonage come in. People using VoIP can call any telephone anywhere in the world and can receive calls on telephone sets connected to the Internet or Local Area Network (LAN). The ideal is that the user can't even tell the difference between a call on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and VOIP.

Today, there are many VoIP services available for residential and commercial use. Some of these still rely on PC-to-PC connections but may offer other services such as PC-to-phone and phone-to-phone.

Making a VOIP Call

In a VOIP call, your voice is first converted into digital data. This is done by 'sampling' your voice -- dividing the analog sound signal into discrete steps that can be assigned a number value. Once your voice is digitized, the data can be compressed.

The compressed digital data is split up into 'packets' of about 1500 bytes that can be transferred over the Internet. As well as the voice data, the packets contain information about their origin, their destination, and a timestamp that allows them to be reconstructed in the correct order. Once they arrive at their destination, they are reassembled and converted from digital back into analog so that the receiving party can hear your voice.

In order for voice data to be transmitted without noticeable delays, a broadband Internet connection is necessary. Many households and businesses are already using broadband (either DSL or cable) so adding VoIP is relatively simple.

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