While there are a number of ways that VoIP is currently being used, most individual callers fall into one of three categories: ATA, IP Phones, and Computer-to-Computer.
ATA or Analog Telephone Adaptor, is the most common way of using VoIP. This adaptor actually allows you to hook up the phone, which is already in your house, to your computer, and then to your Internet connection. What the ATA does, is turn the analog signals your phone sends out into digital signals that can be sent over the Internet. Setting up this system is quite simple. It simply requires that you order an ATA, plug the cable from your phone (which would normally go into the wall socket) into the ATA, and then the ATA gets plugged into your computer, which is connected to the internet. Some ATAs include software that has to be installed on your computer before it is ready to be used, but basically it is quite a simple process.
The next type of VoIP usage utilizes IP Phones instead of your home phone. The IP Phone looks just like a normal phone, with all the same buttons and cradle. The only difference is that instead of having a normal wall jack connector, it has an Ethernet connector. So, instead of plugging in your IP phone to the wall jack (like you would with a regular analog phone), it is plugged directly into your router. This option allows you to circumvent your personal computer. It also means that you will not have to install any software because it is all built into the handset. In addition, with the availability of Wi-Fi IP phones, subscribing callers can make VoIP calls from any Wi-Fi hot spots. All these features make IP Phones an extremely exciting option.
Lastly, the simplest and cheapest way to use VoIP is through computer-to-computer calls. These calls are entirely free, meaning that there is no need for any calling plans. The only things you need are the software (which can be found for free on the internet), a good internet connection, a microphone, speakers and a sound card. Except for your monthly internet service fee, there is literally no cost for making these calls, no matter how many you make.
For large companies, VoIP also offers some very unique possibilities. Some larger companies are already utilizing the technology by conducting all intra-office calls through a VoIP network. Because the quality of sound is comparable to and in some cases surpasses that of analog service, some international companies are using VoIP to route international calls through the branch of their company, which is nearest the call's destination and then completing it on an analog system. This allows them to pay local rates internationally and still utilize the same intra-office VoIP network, as if they are calling someone in the next cubicle.
Advantages of VoIP
While your current long-distance plan covers you for only one location, say calls made from your office, you can make a call from anywhere where you can get a broadband connection with VoIP. That is because all three methods mentioned above, unlike analog calls, send the call information via the Internet. Hence, you can make calls from home, on vacation, on business trips and almost anywhere else. With VoIP, you can bring your home phone along with you anywhere you go. In the same way, computer-to-computer connections imply that as long as you have your laptop and a broadband connection, you are ready to go.There are also some nifty benefits to having your calls transmitted over the Internet. For example, some VoIP service providers allow you to check your voicemail via your e-mail, while others allow you to attach voice messages to your e-mails.
The Future of VoIP
While most analysts believe that it will take at least another decade before companies and telephone providers make the full switch to VoIP, the potential for VoIP technology's use today is already quite astounding. A report by the Forrester Research Group predicts that by the end of 2006, nearly 5 million U.S. households will be using VoIP phone service. With the savings and flexibility that VoIP technology already offers, and new advances just ahead on the horizon, we can expect those numbers to escalate further in the future.