What are VoIP and Internet Calls?
VoIP is the acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol. It refers to a group of technologies that uses IP networks to facilitate the delivery of telephone services. These IP networks include local area networks (LANs) and broadband internet connections. According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are over 4.7 million VoIP subscriptions in Texas as of June 2021.
VoIP and internet calls are technically the same thing. They both describe the delivery of telephony services using broadband internet connections. VoIP uses broadband internet connections as the medium to deliver audio calls, video calls, and text messages to the end recipients. VoIP uses packet switching technology to communicate and transmit data, unlike landlines and wireless telephones, which use circuit switching transmissions.
How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?
Traditional telephone services such as landlines and cell phones vastly differ from VoIP and internet calls. Regular telephone services rely on circuit switching in which two nodes establish a dedicated channel through the network for them to communicate. Circuit-switched networks require dedicated point-to-point connections during communication. VoIP and internet calls use packet switching to transmit data in packets over digital networks. Packet-switched networks move data in separate, small blocks – packets - based on the destination address in each packet. When received at the destination, the packets are reassembled in the proper sequence to make up the message.
Traditional telephony services transform the sound waves from the callers into signals propagated along copper wires (landlines) and radio waves (cell phones). For landlines, sound is transformed into electrical signals and transmitted through telephone exchanges to the receivers. With cell phones, sound is transmitted across radio waves and routed through base stations to their destinations. Tall fixed antenna masts are connected to the base stations and used to propagate the radio wave transmissions. This system creates a grid pattern (cell) that allows each mast to receive and route calls within its grid. It enables the same set of frequencies to be reused without interference and maximizes the number of phone calls an antenna mast can manage.
VoIP services convert sound waves to digital signals and transmit them as packets over the internet. Internet calls require specialized equipment to function, such as IP telephones, ATAs, and softphones. The IP telephones connect directly to modems and routers to facilitate telephony. ATAs (Analog Telephone Adapters) are adapters that connect to analog phones such as landlines to enable VoIP calls. Softphones are software-based telephones that allow telephony services on computers and internet-connected communications devices.
VoIP offers the following benefits over landlines and cell phones:
- Lower cost - VoIP uses IP data networks for call transmissions making it more efficient and cheaper than landlines and cell phones. Premium services that would incur expensive surcharges with regular telephony are virtually free in VoIP packages.
- Accessibility – VoIP services are accessible anywhere there is a broadband connection.
- Scalability – VoIP networks are extremely scalable and the number of phone users is only restricted by the available bandwidth.
- Flexibility – VoIP calls can be made from numerous devices including mobile phones, computers, tablets, and VoIP phones. All that is required is the appropriate software or application. Even landlines can be set up to make VoIP calls with ATAs.
- Reduced Maintenance Cost - VoIP services also have lower maintenance costs because they are software-based and hardware-based, like regular telephone service.
- VoIP numbers can be used on multiple devices and by several users simultaneously; likewise, one user device can be linked to several VoIP numbers.
Just as for regular phone numbers, reverse phone lookup searches can identify subscribers linked to VoIP numbers.
Does Texas Regulate VoIP Providers?
No. Because VoIP is based on internet technology, the Public Utilities Commission has no oversight over VoIP providers.
What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?
A broadband internet connection is required to make internet calls. The best VoIP experiences require Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) and Ethernet connections and fast (4G/LTE and 5G) mobile networks. The other tools required for making internet calls depend on the preferred method of VoIP calling.
If you want to make internet calls from a landline, you need an ATA and a compatible telephone box. The ATA connects the telephone to a wall phone socket or a compatible internet router.
If you want to make internet calls from a computer, you need a microphone and speakers, or a headset. You also need to install VoIP software on your computer, such as Skype, GoogleTalk, and Zoom. Some VoIP software can also make calls to regular phone numbers, but such calls carry charges. Calls made between users of the same software are free of charge.
If you want to make internet calls on a mobile phone, you need a smartphone with a VoIP application installed. Free mobile apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime all facilitate internet calls. Calls made between users of the same applications are free and calls to regular landlines and cell phones are charged.
Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?
A VoIP number has the same ten digits as a standard telephone number and both are identical. Nonetheless, there are basic differences between VoIP numbers and regular phone numbers, such as:
- Regular phone numbers are assigned to fixed devices such as phone lines, SIM cards, and handsets. VoIP numbers are assigned to individual users.
- Regular phone numbers are fixed and can only be used on one device by one user. VoIP numbers can be assigned to and used on several devices by different users at the same time.
- Regular phone numbers cannot be used outside of their network’s jurisdiction unless a special dispensation called roaming is obtained. VoIP numbers can be used in any location and are only restricted by internet connections.
Can You Make Free Internet Calls?
Yes as long as you meet certain requirements. Of course, you must have a broadband connection but to make free internet calls, the caller must deploy a telephony application that makes free phone calls. These applications exist in different formats for different devices and facilitate free phone calls in the following ways:
- PC to PC - The same telephony software is installed on two separate PCs, allowing free phone calls between the two systems.
- PC to Phone – These apps make free internet calls from a PC to real telephone numbers.
- App to Phone – These applications are used by smartphones to make telephone calls to regular phone numbers.
- App to App – These applications enable smartphones and tablet devices to make free internet calls between devices with the same applications installed.