Q: What should I know about Vonage, Skype, or other Internet telephone services?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by Amy Herman

A: Internet telephone services such as these use a technology commonly called “Voice over Internet Protocol”, or VoIP. Basically, they convert voice into digital data that is carried over the Internet then converted back into voice. VoIP can be implemented in many different ways, such as using VoIP inside a company’s private phone system. However, for purposes of this question, we’ll talk about using VoIP technology as a replacement for “regular” phone service, otherwise known as “plain old telephone service” or POTS for short.

Vonage and similar companies are VoIP services that position themselves as POTS replacements. These services use your existing broadband Internet service. Often, the companies provide equipment that connects to your home or office network, as well as to your existing POTS equipment. So basically once the service is set up, you will continue to use your old phones just as you did before. Instead of your voice traveling over the local phone company’s system, your voice is converted to Internet traffic and rides over your Internet provider’s network. Generally, these companies position their services as being cheaper than service from a regular phone company.

Skype and similar software provide VoIP services by utilizing your computer to make the voice to digital conversion. Often, the user you would be calling will have the same software on their computer. Usually, the companies that provide the software will not charge you if the person on the other end also uses the same software. They will only charge you if you are calling someone with a regular phone.

Finally, many Internet providers are offering phone services, which while they may not advertise them as such, are based on VoIP technologies. Basically, these services are very similar to Vonage-type services, but they are simply bundled with the Internet providers data service.

As far as the voice quality of these services, reports are many and varied. Some people have had very good experiences with these services. Others have not. Generally, the biggest factor in the quality of these services is the reliability of the underlying Internet service.

The only way to know if a particular service will work in your particular situation is to test it out. My advice is to test the particular service you are interested in before completely committing yourself to that service. Most services will provide at least a one month free trial. If you really feel a VoIP service will be beneficial to you and you’d like to ensure that your network is optimized to support VoIP, please let me know. I’d be happy to help you out.