You would probably have heard of VoIP, unless you've been living on some other planet. Even if you've never really understood what the hype was all about, VoIP (which by the way, stands for Voice over Internet Protocol) will change the way you think about long distance telephone calls.
VoIP actually means that all that sounds you hear on the regular telephone (analog audio signals) are turned into a digital signal, which is then transmitted through the Internet.
So again you ask, why is this VoIP changing the industry? It means that you can totally go around your telephone company and start making long distance calls at no charge. All you have to do is get some of the free software that's available all over the Internet right now.
And here's the best part: this new technology can revolutionize the telephone system in the whole world. You might have seen the tv commercials from one of the forerunners of VoIP called Vonage. Vonage calls itself the 'broadband telephone company' and provides attractive services to its customers. These include low-cost 800 numbers and very low international rates. Fees from the US to Canada are also waived.
However, Vonage isn't the only company who is the game. AT&T is providing VoIP calling in some places in the US. There are also other major companies, including Skype, which is going all out with its viral advertising.
At the moment, most VoIP service providers offer plans somewhat similar to cell phone companies called 'minute-rate' plans for as low as $30 a month. And just like the cell phone plans, you can also opt for unlimited plans for around $79 a month. Without ever having to pay for long distance charges, unregulated charges and all the free services that come standard with your VoIP service, you can save a great amount of money.
Previously, you might be paying for services such as call waiting, three way calling, call forwarding, caller ID, repeat dial and last call return. With VoIP, you no longer need to pay as these come standard with your service. Plus, there are some advanced features that would make VoIP worth looking into. With some providers, you can opt for call filtering options and even have control over how calls are handled according to their numbers. For example, you could forward your call to a certain number, send the call to voicemail, give a busy signal, play a 'not in service' message, or even send the caller to a funny rejection hotline.
Some VoIP services also allow you to check your voicemail on the Internet or even attach messages to an email that is sent to you. Remember though, not all plans and features are the same for all VoIP providers. You should look around for one that best suits your needs.
The other benefit that makes VoIP a very attractive alternative for home and business users is its flexibility. With VoIP, you can make calls from any location that you can get broadband connectivity. As ATAs (Analog Telephone Adaptor) and IP phones transmit information over the Internet, they can be done by any provider. For travelers on business trips, this means that they never miss a home phone call, since they can take their ATA with them wherever their destination might be. Also, by using a 'softphone' or a software which enables you to load your VoIP service onto your laptop or even desktop, you can easily make calls anywhere, provided you have broadband services, a headset and a microphone.
IP telephony is the way of the future. It makes sense in terms of ROI, from both the infrastructure and economic point of view. It will not be overnight, but in time all of the current circuit switched networks in place today will be taken over by packet switching technology, in other word, VoIP. A majority of businesses are already using VoIP, and as the technology makes a presence into our lives, it will become more popular. Forrester Research predicts that by the end of 2006, nearly 5 million US households will have VoIP phone service.
In a nutshell, VoIP is just a better phone service, but it's one that's here to stay...