What Is Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)?

Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) is communications technology that allows users to interact by audio through an Internet connection, rather than through an analog connection. Voice-over-Internet Protocol converts the voice signal used in traditional phone technology into a digital signal that travels through the Internet instead of through analog telephone lines.

Key Takeaways

  • Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that lets users make calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a standard phone line.
  • VoIP technology converts the voice signal used in traditional phone calls into a digital signal that travels via the Internet rather than analog phone lines.
  • Because calls are being made over the Internet, they are essentially free when made wherever the Internet is available.
  • The traditional telephone industry was hit hard by the VoIP boom, with many users abandoning it as some of its services have become nearly obsolete.

Understanding Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)

Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology allows users to make "telephone calls" through Internet connections instead of through analog telephone lines, which renders these calls effectively free wherever the Internet is available. VoIP changed the telecommunications industry by making traditional phone lines and services nearly obsolete and reducing demand for them significantly.

As access to the Internet has become more widely available, VoIP has become ubiquitous both for personal use and for business use. 

RingCentral, 8x8, Intermedia, Vonage, Mitel, NetFortris Fonality, eVoice, Ooma Office, Dialpad, and Microsoft Skype led the list of PCMag's best VoIP providers for 2019.

How Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) Works

VoIP works by converting voice audio into packets of data that then travel through the Internet like any other type of data such as text or pictures. These packets of sound data travel almost instantly through public and private Internet networks to route from the origination to the destination. Any landline or mobile phone that is connected to the Internet can place and receive VoIP calls. VoIP calls can also be conducted on computers through the computer microphone and speakers or headsets.

Because VoIP calls travel through the Internet instead of through analog telephone lines, they are subject to the same lags and delays as other data traveling the Internet when bandwidth is compromised or overwhelmed.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)

The pros of VoIP technology is that it reduces the cost of voice communication to almost nothing for personal and commercial use. Many Internet providers throw in VoIP telephone service for free for personal subscribers as an incentive to buy broadband or higher speed of Internet connection and Internet cable television channels. Since it costs the Internet provider a little extra to provide this service and it costs the customer nothing extra for this service, it is a win-win for everyone involved in the transaction.

VoIP service has also enabled video calls, conference calls, and webinars for commercial and personal use at prices that are affordable or free. Previously, video conferencing and web conferencing were expensive and only available to companies large enough to justify the expense, but VoIP allows companies of all sizes, including solo practitioners and freelancers, to afford it.

The main con of VoIP services is that they can lag or clump. Because the sound goes in packets, it is slightly delayed. Under normal circumstances, untrained listeners won't be able to tell the difference between VoIP and analog calls. But when there is high bandwidth usage on the Internet, the packets may cluster or be delayed, which can cause a jerky, clumped sound on VoIP calls.

Some VoIP services can't work during power outages if the user or provider does not have backup power. Some 9-1-1 services do not have the ability to recognize locations of VoIP calls.