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

VOIP Phone Terminology: A Quick Reference

When shopping around for a VOIP phone, you’ll come across the following buzzwords like: SIP phone, IP phone, and Internet phone.

Do all these terms mean the same thing, or is there a difference? Let’s take a quick look.

VOIP phone or Broadband phone: A handset used to make VOIP calls. A VOIP phone has an Ethernet port (RJ-45) instead of regular phone jack (RJ-12), and they connect directly to a broadband Internet modem. A VOIP phone does not require a computer or softphone application to make or receive calls. A high speed Internet connection is all that is required. A SIP phone is a type of VOIP phone.

SIP Phone: A VOIP handset that complies with the SIP standard for voice over IP. SIP is the latest open standard, succeeding H323 standards. Bottom line, SIP compatibility is good. Phones that compete with SIP use proprietary signaling protocols for voice over IP.

IP phone: An umbrella term but used to mean any phone that can be used on an IP network (like the Internet). An IP phone may comply with either proprietary or open standards for voice signaling. An IP phone doesn't have a RJ-12 connector like regular phones.

Internet phone: This term is used pretty loosely and depending on the context can mean the same as IP phone.

Softphone: A software application that lets you make calls over the Internet using the mouse or keyboard to dial phone numbers. To use a softphone, your computer must have an sound card, plus a speakers or headset and a microphone. A USB phone can take the place of headset and microphone. Softphones are often free to download. Free VOIP software such as Skype and Free World Dialup are two popular choices.

USB phone: A handset that connects to the USB port on your computer. It is used for convenience when dialing from your computer, but it requires that a softphone application be installed first. Instead of using the softphone with a headset or microphone, the USB phone looks and acts like a regular phone and keypad. USB phones require driver software to be installed on the computer.

WiFi phone or WLAN phone: A handset used for making wireless VOIP calls. It has a  built-in WiFi transceiver unit instead of an Ethernet port. When you talk over WiFi, the phone connects wirelessly to a WiFi base station and from there to the Internet and a remote VoIP server. A computer or softphone is not required to make and receive VoIP phone calls. All that is required is access to a WiFi base station. Many cell phone companies are developing handsets with WiFi capability. This means you can make calls on the regular cell phone network and make VOIP calls on a local WiFi network (called a WiFi hotspot).

Skype phone: A handset that is much like a USB phone, except that the softphone application used to make the calls is Skype. A Skype phone can only make calls using the proprietary Skype phone software running on your computer. Linksys recently announced the release of its CIT200 wireless Skype handset which makes using Skype convenient from anywhere in the home.

Web phone: A marketing term that has been used to mean many things, both softphone and IP phone-related.

Net phone: Same as IP phone

Computer phone: See softphone, PC phone or USB phone.

PC phone: See computer phone, softphone or USB phone.

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