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Telephone over the Internet

You may already be aware that there are now alternatives to traditional phone service. But do those alternatives provide improvements? Do these low cost alternatives to traditional phone service offer service that could replace the service provided by the phone company? There is no simple answer to these questions; the choice depends on how the service will be used and the user's expectations.

The newest type of phone service uses the Internet instead of dedicated telephone infrastructure. As there is virtually no additional infrastructure needed to provide Internet phone service, the service can be offered at a much lower price point. The service is not dependent on any specific location; a recipient can keep their phone number regardless of their physical location.

Internet phone service (aka "VoIP" service) can work in a variety of ways. It can function exactly the same as traditional phone service using your existing phones, it can be operated via a computer, or anywhere in between.

Vonage is one of the more widely used residential Internet phone services and aims to provide a calling experience almost identical to traditional phone service. The most popular way to use Vonage is to obtain a Vonage "phone adapter". The phone adapter is a small box that connects to the caller's Internet connection without interfering with any computers, PDAs, etc. The phone(s) attach to the phone adapter. The easiest method is to use a cordless phone system and simply attach the base station to the Vonage phone adapter. From that point, there is no operational difference from traditional phone service for making or receiving calls. If the phone is taken "off hook", a dial tone is heard, inbound calls ring the handsets, etc.

RingCentral is one of the more popular services when business centric features are desired. This service provides more centralization and call routing flexibility, along with other greater and more robust features that can be advantageous to callers. RingCentral does not require any special hardware as it works with any standard Internet (VoIP) phone, such as those by Cisco and many other manufacturers. Simply attach your VoIP deskset to your Internet connection and enter the configurations provided by RingCentral. In addition, the service can work via your computers for easy access from anywhere.

Many cell phones and PDAs today can use Internet phone service. You may already have such a handheld without even realizing it. If your handheld is "SIP" enabled you will be able to make Internet calls as easily as any other phone call. Nokia, for example, has made this exceptionally easily by simply providing the option after a phone number is entered: enter a phone number and the Phone or PDA will simply ask if you would like to make an Internet call or a cellular call. Making such calls to a "landline" usually doesn't exceed two cents per minutes, even internationally.

Companies such as Skype offer Internet phone service via a downloadable application. Download Skype from www.skype.com to start calling other Skype users right away. Using a bluetooth headset can make this more comfortable as you can make the call from your computer and then use a cordless headset to allow you to move around while talking. Service such as Skype are mostly intended for more casual use than a total replacement for traditional phone service.

VoIP services provide the advantage of exceptional flexibility, abundance of calling features, and low price point. However, these advantages do come at a cost of reduced sound quality and a greater chance of downtime. The sound quality of VoIP can be different from dedicated phone service in that it can be inconsistent; sometimes the sound quality can be fine, but other times the volume can be low, parties at either end of the call may experience clipping, and the service becomes unavailable anytime something effects the Internet connection.

For callers wishing for the best possible uptime and sound quality, dedicated (traditional) phone service may the ideal choice. Dedicatted phone services uses dedicated infrastructure instead of shared infrastructure (in this case shared with Internet use). This dedicated infrastructure is specifically intended to have the fewest possible points of failure, be able to be quickly repaired, and is prioritized specifically to provide consistently good sound quality.

VoIP services offer a great new option. For those callers who have a lower priority on land-line communication, VoIP may be a great alternative to traditional phone service. Many callers supplement their existing service with a VoIP "line" or use VoIP for certain tasks like international communication, while others may find that VoIP does not yet provide the quality and uptime needed.
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