Many people hear the term VOIP and they  immediately think it means cheap, low quality calls over the Internet. Unfortunately this is about as far from the real meaning as one could get.

Like most things in the world of I.T. VOIP is an acronym. It stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. Internet protocol does not mean "The Internet". It means the network technology used by the Internet. This technology is the same as that used in any network, private, or public.

 

So now we have cleared that up, what is VOIP really? In laymans' terms, VOIP is a technology that allows telephone calls to be placed over a data network. Questions that often arise regarding VOIP are:-

  1. Is it reliable? Yes VOIP is as reliable as any other medium to carry phone calls. In fact network technology has improved so much, it can be MORE reliable than traditional phone lines.

  2. Is the call quality as good as traditional phone lines? The call quality can be far greater than traditional phone lines. VOIP is digital and the quality of the calls can be adjusted anywhere from that of traditional phone systems, to high fidelity. In fact high fidelity telephone handsets are commonplace. However they can only talk in high fidelity to other VOIP telephones as the traditional telephones will only offer the same low quality that they have done for the past 50 years.

  3. Will it save me money? Maybe. VOIP is a technology, not a billing system. VOIP hardware is no more expensive than traditional hardware. Because VOIP CAN run over the Internet, it can also be cheaper. However, the cost of the calls will come down to the carrier you choose. With VOIP there is much more competition.

So, you might be interested to know how VOIP works. If so, read on. Here is a very simplified description. First we will discuss how traditional telephony works, then how VOIP works. 

 

The phone line you have at home and still used by many businesses, has not changed in principle since the telephone was invented. This analogue system is based around sending sound waves as electrical signals down a pair of wires from one person to another. The quality of the call is generally quite low and affected by may factors. Distance, corrosion in the wires, old electronics, etc, all affect the quality of the call. However, the biggest disadvantage of this system is that a pair of wires has to be dedicated to the connection from person A all the way to person B. In our high density world, this is very inefficient. 

 

In recent times digital systems have come about where the voice is converted into a digital signal and transmitted from person A to person B. This has allowed engineers to send more than one phone call across a pair of wires and has made it easier to get higher densities over the same amount of copper in the ground, but it is still limited and usually around 15 calls per pair of wires is the maximum capacity of a phone line, over a relatively short distance. The other advantage of digital lines is that they maintain the call quality and extra "features" can be sent down the phone lines. These features include calling multiple phone numbers over the same phone line. This has lead to direct indial, or the ability to give multiple extensions in a business their own outside phone numbers, all shared on the same phone lines.

 

The above methods are both called circuit switching. That is because a dedicated "circuit" needs to be established between parties in order to make a call. If there are not enough resources to complete a circuit, the call cannot be made. A circuit is used exclusively during the entire call process and cannot be used by anyone, or anything else.

 

VOIP does not use the circuit switching method. It uses a packet switching method of communication. Packet switching is a data communication type where instead of tying up a circuit entirely for one task, data is put into "packets" and the packets travel through the network like carriages on a train, or cars on a road. Many different packets from different sources heading to different destinations can travel on the copper at the same time. This effectively means we can put our voice on the same line as our data. Over the same copper wires we can have email, web browsing, Facebook and telephone calls, plus many other services.

 

So how do we turn our voice into "packets"? Well the answer is very simple in theory. When we are talking, the telephone handset records a small chunk of our voice, converts it into data, adds a destination address and puts it onto the network. Meanwhile it is recording the next chunk. These packets make their way to the far end where they are converted back into sound and joined together to create smooth speech. In order to make all this happen seamlessly, there is a small delay introduced into the system, but it is only around 100 milliseconds (1 tenth of a second), so it is hardly noticeable. In fact mobile phones use this same technology and you may have noticed if you ever tested your mobile phone, that there is a slight delay, but it is not noticeable when you cannot hear the other party directly.

 

References to copper wire above could also mean fibre optic cable, or even wireless, except in the first example of analogue telephony. This old technology only works over copper wire.

 

So, the bottom line is that VOIP is a powerful, reliable and very high quality medium for telephony. The reason you may hear negative comments is that sometimes VOIP systems are installed incorrectly and most times this is due to the network that they run on being unreliable, too slow, or too overloaded. There are also negative comments put about by traditional telephony vendors, who don't understand VOIP and are scared that it will render them redundant. We at Datamerge are experts in VOIP and the networks required to make VOIP work properly. We can demonstrate just how well the technology works. For those of you who communicate with us regularly by phone, you will have been talking to us on VOIP for the past 7 years. 

 

We can show you how VOIP can improve your communications dramatically and almost certainly pay for itself in reduced phone bills as well.