If you want to save money on your monthly phone bill or lower telephone costs at your business, switching to a VoIP service might be the answer. Short for “voice over internet protocol,” VoIP is an alternative to landlines providing additional services and benefits for users.

What is VoIP?

Instead of carrying call data over telephone wires from one user to another, VoIP services send signals as digital packets via a broadband Internet connection. Some connect directly through an Ethernet port, and others make use of Wi-Fi to send data. This allows you the freedom to travel with your VoIP phone and be accessible at the same phone number no matter where you go. Services are available for both residential and business customers and come with different perks depending on the needs of the target customers.

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What Do You Need to Get Started?

All VoIP services require a reliable broadband Internet connection with enough bandwidth to handle call data. Bandwidth considerations are particularly important for businesses interested in switching their entire phone networks to VoIP. High call volumes put more demand on the connection and require a network with the ability to handle daily fluctuations.

You can choose to purchase VoIP phones or invest in analog telephone adapters (ATAs) to connect your existing phones to a VoIP network. Adapters are the best choice if you don’t want to or can’t afford to update your current communication hardware. You can also opt for wireless VoIP phones or a VoIP software application. For these, you need a dependable router to provide a strong, consistent Wi-Fi signal. If you choose going the software route, a headset or USB handset is all you need to use the service.

Since VoIP is based on Internet connectivity, it can stop working during a power failure. Not all VoIP providers offer a backup power supply, so you may have to invest in one yourself to ensure your phone service never goes down in an emergency situation.

The Types of VoIP Services

VoIP is very flexible and offers a lot of options for individuals and businesses looking to make the switch. Whether you want to keep your home number but pay less every month or need a phone service you can rely on for frequent business travel, one of these VoIP options should have the features necessary to meet your needs.

Subscription

Most basic VoIP services operate on a subscription model. You either purchase a VoIP device and pay a monthly bill like you would with a traditional phone line, or you pay for a package each month in which you receive a set number of minutes for both domestic and international calls.

Software

If you’ve ever used Skype or Google Hangouts, you’re familiar with how software-based VoIP applications work. Also called “softphones,” these types of services are accessed on your computer via the web or through an app on your mobile device. Calls to users on the same platform are usually free, and additional services are available through low-cost monthly or annual subscriptions.

Some software-based VoIP services offer the option to integrate with existing business phone systems, providing a cheaper way for companies to stay connected. These hybrid systems outsource management to a third party, reduce onsite maintenance costs and create a more scalable network.

Device

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to switch to VoIP, device-based services provide an inexpensive solution. Instead of paying a monthly charge or annual subscription, you purchase a device upfront and use it to make calls for free for as long as you like. These plans usually have restrictions on international calls, however, so make sure the service covers all the locations with which you need to stay connected.

Mobile

Mobile VoIP functions as an extension of software-based services with the added benefit of being available everywhere you go. To make VoIP calls on your phone or tablet, install the app from your provider, follow the setup instructions and make sure you have a good connection. Mobile VoIP doesn’t even need Wi-Fi as long as the cellular signal is strong enough when you want to make a call.

Business Services

Switching your business phones over to VoIP comes with perks like video conferencing to keep you connected with clients, partners, and remote employees. Choose from onsite solutions using VoIP phones or software-based cloud services to lower costs and improve the flexibility of your communication network. If you and your employees travel frequently, VoIP provides a consistent and reliable way to stay connected.

Choosing a Service

How do you decide which VoIP service is right for you? Consider these popular options, rated some of the best for 2018 by TechRadar and Digital Trends:

  1. Vonage provides a box to adapt your current phone to VoIP. Plans range in price from $12.99 per month to $24.99 per month and may be purchased annually or on a month-to-month basis.
  2. Ooma offers a free basic plan with the purchase of one of their routers, which start at $99.99. Special features like Amazon Echo connectivity are available on the premier plan for $119.99 per year. Business packages start at $19.95 per month and require no annual contract.
  3. Lingo offers residential plans starting at $33.95 per month and business VoIP starting at $39.95 per month. Add-on features are available for an additional charge.
  4. Skype provides both cloud- and app-based VoIP services starting at $2.99 per month for subscriptions. A “pay as you go” option is also available using Skype Credit.

Switching to VoIP provides a viable solution to expensive monthly telephone bills at home or in your business. Making the change can be as simple as installing a software program or app and buying a headset, but even an initial investment in equipment can cost less in the long run than what you’d normally pay for a landline or traditional business phone system. Compare services, the cost of equipment upgrades and potential benefits to find the right service to meet your needs.