VoIP Provider

There are two basic routes you can go with VoIP — you can use one of the many free VoIP services (such as Skype or SIPphone) or you can sign up with a VoIP provider which charges a monthly fee.

Choosing which way is best depends on how you expect to use VoIP. If you simply want to communicate with friends and family over the Internet, one of the free services may be sufficient. However, if you’re looking for a real alternative to your existing PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) phone service, you should consider signing up with a VoIP provider that offers package deals based on their monthly fee.

The problem is, there are many to choose from. How can you know which one will provide the best VoIP service for your money? In order to answer this question, you must decide which kind of services are necessary for you, and whether or not you want to give up your existing PSTN service completely.

Most VoIP providers offer a package deal which includes free calls to a certain geographical area. For example, iConnectHere offers 800 minutes calling time within the USA and Canada for $15.99 a month (August 2005). Almost every VoIP provider will offer free services such as call waiting, call display and conference calls.

So if most VoIP providers offer the same basic package for a similar monthly fee, are there any differences?

The answer is — Yes. There is a lot of competition between VoIP service providers, and each company strives to provide services which set it apart from the others. When choosing a VoIP provider, you will have to wade through the many packages available to see what is most appropriate for you.

For example, if you make a lot of overseas calls you want a package that includes these calls in the basic monthly fee. If you receive most of your calls from a certain geographic area or city, try to find a service provider that offers a PSTN phone number in that location. This will allow people to call you at local rates.

For example, if you live in Florida, but you have a lot of friends and relatives who live in England, try to find a VoIP service provider that will give you an alternate number based in London. That way, people can dial your London phone number and reach you in Florida at the same cost as a local call.

Service and reliability is another important factor when choosing a VoIP provider. This is much harder to determine independently. You can get this information from reading reviews on the Internet or talking with friends and associates about which VoIP providers they are using. If you hear a lot of negative comments or see a lot of negative reviews, that’s a warning sign, but keep in mind that not everybody will be satisfied all the time, so weigh the good reviews with the bad. Try to find a company that offers a money back guarantee — that way if you are dissatisfied with the service you will not be out any money.

On the technical side, try to find out how much bandwidth is required for a particular VoIP service. This information may not be available on the company’s web site, so if necessary, send them an e-mail to verify that your broadband connection is suitable for VoIP. Generally speaking, though, if you have 128 kbps on the upload side it should be sufficient for VoIP.

You may wish to keep your existing phone number when signing up for VoIP service. This may be possible if the VoIP provider offers local phone numbers in your city. Not all providers offer this service so if it is important to keep your number, be sure to find a provider that can do this.

Emergency Calls

Emergency 911 calls are one of the most difficult technical problems of VoIP. The main problem is that it is hard to determine your physical location when you are making a VoIP phone call, so 911 calls may not be routed to the correct call center, and even if they are, the operators cannot determine your location if you are unable to speak.

Various VoIP service providers have come up with a number of solutions including registering your address with the provider, having a notification system that calls friends and relatives, as well as hardware solutions built into the VoIP equipment.

In the United States, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is demanding that VoIP providers come up with a solution that allows emergency VoIP calls to be accurately situated, and VoIP service providers are actively searching for a way to provide this service.

Power Outage

Providing phone service during a power outage is another technical problem which VoIP providers have to overcome. PSTN phone systems maintain connections during a power outage by providing electrical current through the phone line. Since VoIP is dependent on household current for operating modems, anytime there is a power outage the phone line will also go dead.

One solution to the problem of blackouts is to use equipment which has battery backups. Depending on the strength of the battery and how much the VoIP equipment is used, this could provide up to 24 hours of power in an emergency situation. Another solution is to have an electrical generator to provide household electricity in the case of a blackout.

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