What are VoIP and Internet Calls?
VoIP, an acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol is a term used in IP telephony for a set of facilities that use the Internet Protocol to deliver voice information. VoIP sends voice information in digital form in discrete packets rather than through traditional circuit switching protocols.
Basic VoIP access allows you to call others who are also receiving calls over the internet. Interconnected VoIP services also allow you to make and receive calls to and from traditional landline numbers, typically for a fee. According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are over 1.2 million VoIP subscriptions in Tennessee as of June 2021.
VoIP and internet calls are largely the same technology which refers to the delivery of voice and multimedia communications over broadband connections. VoIP and internet calls use the internet as the medium of service delivery as compared to traditional telephony service which uses public switched telephone networks (PSTN).
How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?
Landlines are physical copper wires that terminate at your location. Landlines rely on the legacy technology, public switched telephone network (PSTN) which has provided communication to residential areas and businesses for over 100 years. PSTN is the aggregation of global circuit-switched networks for telephone communication, operated at local, national, and regional telephony levels. It provides the infrastructure for public communication, consisting of fiber optic cables, telephone lines, microwave transmissions, communications satellites, cellular transmission, and under-sea cables.
Over the years, PSTN has transformed from a fixed-line telephone analog system to a nearly full digital solution. The development of fiber-optic cables now allows thousands of calls to share the same line which was not initially possible. However, fiber-optic cables have not changed the basic nature of circuit switching which still requires a circuit or connection to remain open throughout the duration of a landline phone call.
During a landline phone communication, the speaker's voice travels in small sound waves which are carried to a thin metal disk inside the phone called a diaphragm and are converted into electrical energy. The electrical energy travels over wires to the destination landline phone where it is converted to sound waves again which can be heard by the other party.
Cellular phones emit electromagnetic radio waves also known as RF energy or radio frequency during calls. The antenna from the nearest cell phone mast receives the radio waves and transmits the signals to a switching center which is a telephone exchange for cellular phones. This allows the call to be connected to either another cellular phone or a telephone network. A cell phone mast consists of several antennas used to facilitate signal reception and transmission of cellular phones and other wireless communication devices.
VoIP works differently from cellular and landline phone communications. VoIP uses internet protocol to transmit voice as packets over an IP network. Hence, VoIP services can be used on any data network that uses IP, such as the internet, intranets, and Local Area Networks (LANs). Voice signals are digitized, compressed, and converted to IP packets and then transmitted over the IP network.
VoIP converts analog voice signals into digital signals and uses packet-switching technology for transmissions. Through packet-switching, data is broken down into small chunks or pieces called packets, which travel independently across the internet and are reassembled at the destination. VoIP uses codec which are compression algorithms to encode and decode data from one end of the transmission to the other. Codecs help ensure that VoIP communications do not take out too much bandwidth.
VoIP offers many advantages over cell phones and landlines, including:
- Lower Costs: VoIP systems are based on software rather than hardware, making it easier to operate and maintain for service providers. It also means that telephony costs are cheaper for users when compared to traditional telephone service providers.
- Scalability: Traditional telephone systems have a set number of ports for telephones to plug in to. VoIP systems afford more flexibility allowing users to run several virtual users through each network socket.
- Better Audio Quality: Provided stable broadband connections are available, VoIP users typically enjoy high-definition call audio quality.
- Accessibility: VoIP services do not rely on fixed physical infrastructure, meaning it can be used anywhere there is a fast internet connection. Traditional telephony services are location specific.
- Added Features: VoIP provided extra telephony features, such as caller ID, call-waiting, and voicemail boxes for free. These features are charged at additional costs by regular telephony service providers.
- Multiple inbound numbers can be linked to the same device, and multiple devices can simultaneously use the same VoIP number.
You may use reverse phone lookup to identify subscribers registered to VoIP numbers.
Does Tennessee Regulate VoIP Providers?
No. Tennessee specifies that VoIP and IP-enabled services are not subject to oversight by any state authority.
What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?
You must have a steady broadband internet connection for an optimal VoIP experience. Although other broadband connections will work, Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and Ethernet connections provide the best experience for wired connections. On mobile connections, 4G (LTE) and 5G connections work best for VoIP telephony services. Any other requirements depend on your chosen medium of placing internet calls.
- Landlines: Using a special adapter known as the Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA), you can make internet calls from regular landline phones. An ATA plugs into a phone socket in the wall or into your router. An ATA is required because analog signals from a landline phone need to be converted into digital packets for VoIP transmission.
- Computers: To make internet calls from a computer, you need to have VoIP software installed on the device. Examples of VoIP software that may be used on a computer include Skype, Zoom, 3CX, and Google Talk. You can even make internet calls from the computer to regular phone numbers. Check that the speakers and microphone on your computer are working adequately before making internet calls.
- Smartphones and Tablets: To use VoIP services on your smartphone or tablet, you need to install an appropriate VoIP application on the mobile device. Mobile VoIP applications that may be installed include WhatsApp, FaceTime, Viber, Skype, and Facebook Messenger.
Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?
VoIP numbers are generally considered real numbers and are similar to regular phone numbers in that they share a ten-digit numbering system. However, there are some differences between the two:
- VoIP numbers are assigned to individuals, while regular phone numbers are assigned to fixed devices, handsets, or SIM cards.
- VoIP numbers are not location-specific. They can be used anywhere where a broadband internet connection is available. You may use them on vacations or business trips. Typically, regular phone numbers cannot be used outside the service provider's network area.
- VoIP numbers may be used on multiple devices at the same time. Regular phone numbers can only be used on a single device at a time.
Can You Make Free Internet Calls?
Yes, you can make free internet calls provided certain conditions are met. You need to have access to a stable broadband internet connection and have an appropriate VoIP application or software installed on your device to make free internet calls. You can make free internet calls through any of the four different ways listed below:
- PC to Phone: These are computer programs that allow you to make free calls from your computer to a regular telephone number. Hence, you do not even need to use a telephone.
- App to Phone: These kinds of applications allow you to make free calls from a mobile device to a regular phone number. These applications make phone calls to any number, even landlines and mobile phones that do not use the application.
- PC to PC: By installing a similar VoIP application on two PCs, you can make free internet calls between both devices.
- App to App: These applications run only on smartphones or tablets, meaning that free internet calls can only be made if the recipient has the same application installed on their smartphone or tablet. Note that with this method, you cannot call landlines or other mobile phones that do not have the appropriate application installed.