If you’re interested in communication tech, you’ve probably run into the term VoIP.
Whether it’s in the context of unified communications or softphones, the word is everywhere.
But what is VoIP exactly? And how does the technology behind it work?
Here’s the run-down on everything you need to know.
What Does ‘VoIP’ Stand For?
VoIP is an acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol. And it does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin – it transfers voice signals via the web.
The technology of VoIP is harnessed by countless applications.
Whether you’re calling someone over WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram, or if you opt for Zoom or Skype – as soon as your voice takes the route over the web rather than traditional phone lines, you’re using VoIP.
But how exactly does this work?
The Technology Behind VoIP
The groundwork for VoIP technology was developed in MIT’s Bell Labs, where the first voice signal was transferred via the internet back in 1973 – when the internet wasn’t even called “the internet” yet! Commercial applications launched in 1995.
The most basic difference between VoIP and traditional telephony is that the latter uses analog signals, rather than digital ones.
Analog calls are routed via the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). If you work at an office with several extensions to your business number, these used to be handled using a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system.
In contrast, VoIP relies on digital signals. The microphone in your device registers your voice signals. These analog sound waves are then converted to digital packages, which your internet router sends to the servers of your VoIP provider. Once the VoIP provider routes the signals, they are forwarded to the recipient of your call. On the target device, the digital packages are then converted back into regular audio signals.
This entire process has several advantages.
VoIP Call Quality: On The Rise
To start with, VoIP call quality has made massive leaps in recent years.
In many places, both in the US and abroad, internet infrastructure is more extensive and better-maintained these days than the traditional PSTN. This leads to superior VoIP call quality and reliability.
Plus, VoIP technology itself has become much more efficient since the 1990s. For example, there are special voice codecs that compress voice signals into much smaller, easily transferable packages.
Cutting Communication Costs with VoIP
Calling rates, especially international ones, are much lower because it’s easier to shuttle data packages around the globe than phone signals.
You also avoid maintenance costs for the PSTN, and any PBX systems you might be using.
What’s more, VoIP calls can be made from any internet-enabled device. This eliminates the need for clunky desk phones.
However, if you still want to keep a regular desk phone – for business purposes, for example – there are dedicated VoIP phones.
Not ready to let go of the desk phone you’ve had for decades? Try a VoIP adapter.
VoIP’s Biggest Plus: Flexibility
In the 21st century, telephony has moved to the cloud. That means it’s accessible from anywhere. You can have multiple virtual phone numbers, and access them from any number of devices – whether it’s your work laptop or your smartphone.
VoIP telephony is also easy to combine with other functionalities and channels of communication.
Many providers of business VoIP services, for example, have a combined offer of cloud-based voice and video calling, messaging, live chat, email, and virtual fax.
If you’re running a business, you can easily add extensions to your virtual company PBX in an online admin platform.
Or if you’re a freelancer launching a blog, you can integrate your VoIP number directly on your website through a click-to-call button.
Going further, VoIP is also easily compatible with cutting-edge tech like Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, natural language processing AIs can transcribe business calls, making documentation a breeze.
What are the Drawbacks of VoIP?
After listing all these advantages, though, it also has to be said that there are a few drawbacks to VoIP.
First – and most obvious – you need a decent internet connection.
Generally, the bare minimum bandwidth for reliable VoIP telephony is 500 kbps.
The good news? Over 95% of the US population now has access to broadband internet.
Another drawback of VoIP, especially for businesses, is that you put all your communication eggs in the same digital basket.
There are countless customer communication channels in 2021 – from email to live chat. Most of them are online. If you also move your telephony to the cloud, you may be in trouble if your internet ever fails.
A final drawback of VoIP can also be security. VoIP calls are only 100% secure if they are end-to-end encrypted. Most providers offer this level of security. But some don’t.
As the Zoom-bombing escapades of 2020 proved, unsecured calls are easy to eavesdrop on or to hijack.
All in all, though, VoIP’s advantages far outweigh its drawbacks.
With the world of modern communication in constant flux, VoIP has firmly established itself as a cornerstone technology. Most people use it without even knowing they do.
But having some insight into what VoIP is and how it works is a major advantage – no matter if you’re just interested in nifty tech, or actively looking ways to upgrade your communication.