Voice Over IP

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Over IP

Main Topics
Introduction to VoIP
1. How does VoIP work?
2. Why is the cost so low?
3. How well does it work?
4. VoIP options
5. Analog Telephone Adapter
6. A Networking Primer
7. Setting up the ATA Router
8. Travelling with the ATA
About Phone Services
Resources (future)
Order VoIP for Home/SoHo
Order VoIP for Business
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About Phone Services

There are several types of phone services. Many use VoIP (Voice over IP) and some do not. Below is a summary of these services followed by more complete descriptions.

Landline Verizon, Bell South, Frontier Customer is connected to the switching center by copper wires or fiber optics strung on utility poles. Ultra reliable, found almost everywhere.
Cellular, mobile Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T A radio system using multiple towers that "hand off" calls from one to another. Calls can be dropped.
Computer based Skype and others Calls are made through your computer over the Internet. Works well if the Internet connection is good. Very inexpensive or free.
VoIP Network Private networks Calls are routed over an IP network, but not the Internet. Used by large companies. Excellent quality, expensive, requires a technical staff.
ISP Phone Cable companies, ISPs An VoIP phone network operated by an ISP using their network but not the Internet. Reliability varies widely, can be cheaper than a landline.
IP Telephone Vonage, Voice Eclipse, others. Customer connected to the company's switching center via the Internet using an adapter. Reliability can be good, cheaper than a landline.

The telephone company (Telco) has provided local telephone service for the past century. Telcos string copper lines to their central office, where they provide you with a dial tone. If the power fails your line stays up. They have a huge bank of batteries and a diesel generator to charge them during long power outages.

Verizon now offers Telco services with FiOS, a landline that uses fiber optics. Fiber does not carry electricity, only light, so you need power at both ends of the connection for it to work. FiOS comes with a battery pack that will run the line for 3-5 hours and you can buy additional batteries to extend the time.

Landline service generally has an uptime rate of 99.999999%.  You almost never hear of a Telco line going down unless someone knocks over a pole or cuts a cable.


Cellular phones are radios that operate on many frequencies. A call, once established, is handed off to the cell tower with the best signal if the caller changes locations. Thus, a cell phone can work just about anywhere, except in a tunnel. Some subways have cellular antennas in their tunnels.

Cell phones work only when they are near a tower. In the mountains or in isolated areas they may not work at all.

Computer Based Phones

You can plug a headset into your computer and make free or cheap calls using a computer based service. The Internet is used to carry the call. Both parties must have the service for a free call, otherwise you have to pay a small fee per call to reach your party via a landline connection at their end.

Skype is one well known system and there are plenty of others. They can be a godsend to retirees and other people on a fixed income or for people with limited funds such as college students.

Reliability is not bad but don't count on this for your only telephone service. It is only as good as your Internet connection, and that is inherently unreliable.

VoIP Network

A VoIP network (Voice over IP) is a private network using the same TCP/IP technology that is used on the Internet. It is similar to a landline in that the connection is dedicated to this purpose, however, it can be carried over many types of media, including T-1 data lines, a cable TV system, private fiber optic, etc.

The central office is privately owned and it connects with the public switched network to permit local and long distance calls to people not on the network. A VoIP network allows a large company to inter-connect their offices using one central switchboard.

Reliability is quite good, as long as the company has a competent staff on board to maintain it. The system can be affected by the carriers that route the calls over their inter-city networks.

ISP Telephones

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer telephone service over their IP network, but not the public Internet. This is a VoIP network run by the ISP, which becomes your Telco with its own switching centers and cable system.

Your ISP will provide an adapter box that connects the phones in your house to their phone network via the same cabling they use to connect you to the Internet. That could be TV cable, fiber optic, or DSL. Note, however, that calls are not carried over the Internet; they are carried over a private VoIP network.

Your ISP can be a one-stop shop for all of your communications needs. Note that some Telcos are also ISPs. Thus, Verizon the Telco is in competition with Verizon the ISP. Verizon the Telco uses copper wires or fiber to connect your calls directly to their switching center. Verizon the ISP can use the same copper wires (DSL) or fiber (FiOS) to connect your calls over their VoIP network.

Reliability can be excellent or it can be horrid. While sound quality should be good, reliability may not be up to par. The quality, or lack thereof, of the labor some of these companies hire can lead to some real horror stories. You really do NOT want to pick up the phone to call 911 and hear "Please try your call later" but that is sometimes the case.

Internet Phones

Internet phones are VoIP based with calls carried over a broadband Internet connection. . They are an excellent solution for people on the go. A small "ATA Adapter" box connected to your Internet router or network connects the phone to the Internet. Just plug one or two phones into the ATA adapter and you are connected.  No computer is needed, just a broadband connection.

Most providers will let you chose your area code and phone number. You can change the number at any time. It is possible to have a dial tone from Guatemala next to a San Francisco dial tone in the same box; just don't call one from the other because it would be an international call. You can also "port over" a landline number to the ATA device.

You can take you ATA adapter and a router with you when you travel to connect your laptop and your phone to the Internet. You will have your personal phone number with you regardless of where in the world you are.

Competition for this type of service is fierce. Large companies such as Vonage often have large rebate deals to get you to take their service for several years. Smaller companies, such as our Voice Eclipse, often provide good service for quite a lot less money since they do not advertise so heavily.

Reliability is subject to the whims of the Internet, which is inherently unreliable. The good news is that these units can continue to work even when the Internet is slow. Connection quality is usually excellent. One drawback is that you cannot send faxes over this type of service.