What it is, Who Provides It, and Why This Might Be Useful To You

VoIP stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol", and is an Internet phone service that allows you to enjoy cheap long distance rates, among other benefits. Some providers include Vonage, Verizon, Sunrocket, Lingo, NetZero, AT&T, Packet 8, and ViaTalk. Rates are cheaper than your existing phone companies. All of the listed VoIP service providers will replace both your local and long distance services, and will work with your existing telephone. You won't notice any difference when you make a phone call--you will use your same phone, dial as you always have, whether for local or long distance calls, can still dial 911 if needed, and neither you or the person you called should notice a difference in sound quality. And there are many other services that are free with VoIP, that you were previously charged for with your regular telephone carrier.

VoIP Providers

Here is basic plan information for some well-known VoIP providers, including charges, what you get, and more.
  • Vonage is probably the best known of VoIP providers. They offer an unlimited plan for $24.99 a month, and a 500 minutes plan for only $14.99. There is a $29.99 activation fee plus $9.95 shipping & handling; they will give you the first month free if you sign up for the unlimited plan. Calls with the USA, to Canada, Puerto Rico, Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ireland fall within allowable calling areas at no extra charge. They are not the cheapest service, but offer the highest quality service of any of the VoIP providers.
  • SunRocket is known for quality service and cheaper rates than Vonage, including rates averaging $16.58 per month if you prepay for a year's service; otherwise their rates are also at 24.95 a month for unlimited minutes, down to $9.95 for the 200 minute plan. If you sign up for the year plan, they will waive the $39.95 setup fee and throw in an extra 3 months free service. Countries include the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, but they also offer international plans.
  • Verizon's rates are comparable for unlimited service, at $24.95 a month, and their 500 minute plan is $19.95. If you are a Verizon DSL customer, you should strongly consider going with Verizon for your VoIP service as well. If you sign up online, they'll waive the activation fee, will provide a free adapter (although you will pay shipping & handling), and you will need to supply your own router. Countries include the US, Canada & Puerto Rico.
  • Lingo is one to seriously consider if you make frequent international calls, as they are the only VoIP provider to offer calls to to Canada, Puerto Rico, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore, as well as USA, included in the monthly plan. Rates with Lingo are $16.25 a month for unlimited if you prepay for a year, $21.95 unlimited if paid monthly, and a 500 minute plan for $14.95 a month.

What Equipment Will I Need?

Not much. You will need a broadband Internet connection (cable, dsl, satellite). VoIP services will not work with dial-up connections. You will also need a phone adapter which will be provided by your VoIP provider for little to no extra money, other than perhaps shipping and handling. Once your adapter arrives, you should be able to set up your phone service in just minutes with little trouble. Verizon does require that you supply your own router.

How's the Call Quality?

Most people find the quality and reliability of VoIP services to be as good or better than traditional phone service. Most quality issues are as a result of a slow or unreliable Internet connection.

Will I Need a New Phone Number?

Usually, no, you can keep your same phone number. All of the above VoIP providers will allow you to transfer your existing phone numbers. The exception is if you have a DSL line through your current phone number. Since your DSL line is linked through your existing phone line, you won't be able to transfer that phone number to your new VoIP provider.

Will I Need to Keep My Existing Phone Service?

No, with one exception. Most VoIP users will cancel their existing phone service once they know they will be satisfied with VoIP service. Some people do keep their existing service, however, because if there's a power outage, your VoIP service will not work. Your VoIP service is dependent on your broadband connection, and if there's a power outage there--your broadband connection will be down. The exception again, is if you are a DSL user, you will need to maintain a standard phone line, but you can cancel all the other services that go with it (like caller ID, etc). Most people now have cell phones which can be used if your VoIP service is down due to a power outage.

In Conclusion

In addition to what we've already described, VoIP providers will also include, free of charge, features you've been paying heavily for, such as Call Waiting, Caller ID, Voicemail, and more. If you're interested in saving money on your local and long distance calling without sacrificing quality, check into VoIP phone service and see if this is for you.

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