What are VoIP and Internet Calls?
VoIP refers to Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that enables telephony over computer networks such as the internet and local area networks (LANs). Illinois has a number of VoIP providers offering alternative telephony services to businesses and individuals. According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are over 3.8 million VoIP subscriptions in Illinois as of June 2021.
VoIP and internet calls may be used interchangeably to describe the conversion of analog phone signals into digital signals sent over the internet through data packets. During a VoIP or internet call, data packets are assembled into chunks for transmission unlike traditional telephony which uses circuit switching transmissions.
How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?
Landline phones employ Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) which connects a home to the phone network through a copper phone line. POTS cannot transmit voice directly. Therefore, sound waves from the caller are converted into electrical signals for transmission through the network. At the recipient's end, the electrical signals are converted back to sound waves.
A cell phone is basically a two-way radio, with a radio transmitter and a radio receiver. The radio transmitter converts the voice at the source to an electrical signal for transmission through radio waves to a nearby cell tower or mast. A network of cell towers relays the radio wave to the destination cell phone, which converts it into an electrical signal and then back to sound by the radio receiver.
VoIP converts voice signals into digital signals for transmission over the internet by means of computer algorithms called codecs. Internet calls may be made through landlines fitted with analog telephone adapters (ATAs), IP phones, and computers. ATA takes the analog signal from a traditional phone and converts it into digital data for transmission. IP phones are dedicated phones with RJ-45 ethernet connectors which connect directly to network routers to make internet calls. All the necessary hardware and software are already embedded on the phone. Computer-to-computer internet calls are the easiest of the lot. With VoIP software, a microphone, speakers, and an internet connection, an internet call may be made for a nominal fee.
VoIP or internet calls offer several benefits over landlines and cell phones:
- Low cost: VoIP uses the internet for calls instead of telephone lines, thereby eliminating many of the expenses incurred by traditional telephone service providers. Traditional service providers need to install many lines over both short and long distances, meaning long-distance calls can be quite expensive. However, with VoIP relaying data over the internet, both domestic and long-distance calls are consequently made comparatively cheaper.
- Accessibility: VoIP or internet call may be made anywhere an internet connection is available.
- Scalability: Traditional phone service providers require huge overhead costs to expand services. The only restriction to scaling the number of VoIP users is available bandwidth.
- Portability: A VoIP number is a virtual number that can be used anywhere the owner travels. Unlike traditional phone service providers which may require callers to obtain a new number or use roaming features at additional costs, a VoIP number can be used at any location for no extra charges.
- Extensive features: VoIP services offer features such as conferencing, voicemail, caller ID, and contact lists that may be used by businesses to improve operational efficiency. These and other features are either not available from traditional service providers or come at a premium.
- Improved voice quality - VoIP guarantees a high audio or video call quality as long as a stable internet connection and sufficient bandwidth are available.
Despite these differences, it is possible to identify landline, cellphone, and VoIP callers using reverse phone lookup searches.
Does Illinois Regulate VoIP Providers?
Yes. VoIP services in the state are regulated by the Illinois Communications Commission (ICC). The ICC requires that new VoIP providers register with the commission at least 30 days before providing service within Illinois. The providers must also notify the ICC of any change in registration information not later than five business days after the change.
What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?
To make an internet call, a fast broadband internet connection is required. Typically, a fiber-optic link and Ethernet connection work best for wired connections. On mobile networks, 4G and 5G connections provide optimum service. Other tools needed depend on the method of VoIP call.
Landlines - To make VoIP calls with a landline phone, you need a VoIP adapter and a compatible phone. The adapter converts the analog to digital signals. A router may also be required if the adapter needs to plug into one. Otherwise, the adapter plugs into a wall phone socket.
Computers - To make an internet call from a computer, you need to install a VoIP software such as Zoom, Google Talk, or Skype. You will also need a microphone and speakers. Although charges may apply for calls made to traditional phone numbers, calls between users of the same software are usually free.
Smartphones - VoIP calls on a smartphone also require you to install an application compatible with making VoIP calls such as Viber, WhatsApp, Facetime, Facebook Messenger, or Skype. Calls between parties using the same VoIP-enabled applications are free. Calls to traditional phone numbers attract service provider fees.
Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?
Although a VoIP number and a regular phone number are both ten digits, there are basic differences between the two:
- VoIP numbers are allocated to individuals while regular phone numbers are allocated to specific devices or phone lines.
- VoIP numbers may be used on multiple user-devices such as on a computer and a smartphone. It may also be used simultaneously on these devices.
- Regular phone numbers may only be used within their carriers’ service areas except where roaming is permitted. VoIP numbers can be used anywhere provided broadband internet connection is available.
Can You Make Free Internet Calls?
You can make free internet calls as long as a broadband internet connection is available and VoIP-enabled software or apps are installed at both ends of the communication. A free internet call can be made in any of the following ways:
- App to App - VoIP applications running on smartphones or tablets enable users to make free internet calls between such devices provided the same applications are installed on both ends.
- App to Phone - These applications permit free VoIP calls to be made to regular phone numbers from smartphones.
- PC to PC - Installing compatible VoIP software on two PCs allows free internet calls between the two PCs.
- PC to Phone - These applications make free VoIP calls from PCs to regular phone numbers.