Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to the transmission of voice traffic over an internet connection. It is a technology that allows users to make voice calls using broadband internet connection instead of regular phone lines. According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are over 1.9 million VoIP subscriptions in Minnesota as of June 2021.
What are VoIP and Internet Calls?
VoIP and internet calls are technically the same. VoIP calls and internet calls are terms often used interchangeably which refer to the provisioning of telephony services using the internet as the medium of data transmission rather than the public switched telephone network (PSTN). VoIP or internet calls require the communicators in a phone conversation to be connected to the internet and use VoIP service providers.
How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?
The communication path and technologies for landlines, cell phones, and VoIP work quite differently. During phone communication between two landline users, sound waves are transformed into electrical energy, which is then transmitted along copper wires that connect the headset to the telephone base. The electrical energy travels along telephone wires and through the telephone exchanges until they reach the phone of the person at the other end. The speaker on this phone transforms the electrical energy into sound waves, reproducing the words spoken from the source. The whole process is repeated when the other person speaks into their phone's microphone. Landline wires run underground and connect to every phone around the world via a network. Landline networks are known as Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS)
Cell phones have the same speaker and microphone combinations as landline phones. During a call, sound waves from the speaker's voice are transformed into electrical signals sent out from the cell phone over radio waves. These radio waves are passed along by cell towers. When the radio waves get to the cell phone of the receiver, they are converted back into sound waves for the other party to hear. Cell phones connect to the nearest cell tower or mast, which is just a massive fixed antenna. During a call, the signal is beamed to a particular mast, which routes the call through to a local base station and onto its destination.
VoIP does not use PSTN, POTS, or cell phone masts. VoIP converts voice signals into digital signals that travel over the internet through packet switching technology. This technology allows VoIP service providers to provide real-time transmission of voice signals and even multimedia communications over internet protocol networks. Packet switching technology also allows the digitized information to be reconstructed at the destination to ensure seamless communication.
VoIP calls offer the following advantages over landlines and cell phones:
- Cost saving: VoIP helps both the internet call service providers and users to save on communication costs. For example, since new communication lines are not required to be laid for long-distance calls, the cost of providing and using VoIP services for long-distance calls are cheaper for both service providers and VoIP users.
- Advanced features: VoIP offers advanced telephony features such as call analytics, call queuing, hot-desking, and find me/follow me. These features are not typically available from landlines and cell phone service providers or cost extra.
- Scalability: Expanding VoIP services to more users does not require laying copper wires lines or creating more base stations or many other expensive physical changes.
- Increased productivity: VoIP users, especially business owners and employees can integrate voice calls with unified communications, cloud collaboration platforms, and business intelligence applications. This is not possible with landline and cell phones.
- Mobility: As long as a fast internet connection is available, VoIP services can be used anywhere in the world. Unlike cell phones which can only be used where the service provider's network is available, VoIP users can use phone services in any location.
- Flexibility: VoIP services are not limited to one device. Traditional phone communications can only be made when both users possess landline or mobile phones. VoIP calls can be made over a VoIP phone, tablet, or computer. VoIP service backward-compatibility is also a huge draw for users. With analog telephone adapters (ATAs), landline phone owners can even make internet calls.
Note that it is possible to identify unknown callers with reverse phone lookup services whether they are calling with landline, mobile, or VoIP numbers.
Does Minnesota Regulate VoIP Providers?
In May 2015, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ruled that fixed VoIP service is a telecommunications service under Minnesota law and is therefore considered subject to the same rules and requirements imposed on other telecommunication carriers. However, following the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) repeated failure to resolve the issue of VoIP service regulatory classification, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that interconnected VoIP service is an information service. The Court ruled that such an information service is federally exempted from state regulation based on its interpretation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and FCC orders.
What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?
A fast internet connection is required to make VoIP or internet calls. Fiber and Ethernet connections work best for wired connections while for mobile networks, a 4G/LTE or 5G connection provides the best VoIP multimedia and audio qualities. Other tools that you may need depend on your mode of calling.
Landline users who want to make VoIP calls need to purchase analog telephone adapters (ATAs). An ATA connects a landline phone to a wall phone socket or a compatible internet router. Data is sent to the router through an ethernet cable. The router sends the call data over the internet to a VoIP service provider.
Persons who prefer to make internet calls on mobile phones need to install VoIP apps on their smartphones. Such applications include Skype, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, Viber, or WhatsApp.
If you prefer to make internet calls from a computer, you need speakers and a microphone. You will also need to install VoIP software on the computer, such as Skype, 3CX, or ZoiPer.
Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?
Although regular phone numbers and VoIP phone numbers have 10 digits, there are a few differences between the two:
- Regular phone numbers are tied to a physical line. VoIP numbers are assigned to users.
- VoIP number can be used regardless of the location of the user. Its use is only limited by the availability of an internet connection. A regular phone number can only be used within the coverage area of the service provider. Outside that, some phone providers offer roaming services in selected locations at additional costs.
- VoIP numbers can be used on multiple devices at the same time. This is not possible with regular phone numbers.
Can You Make Free Internet Calls?
It is possible to make free internet calls with VoIP-enabled devices and applications. However, some requirements must be fulfilled before that can happen. Firstly, an internet connection is essential to make free VoIP calls. The other condition required depends on the devices intended for use by the caller and the call recipient. Four types of applications may be used to make free internet calls. These are:
- App to Phone: With these applications, the caller can make free internet calls from mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets to landlines or regular phone numbers.
- PC to Phone: With VoIP software installed on a personal computer, a caller can make free internet calls from a PC to regular phone numbers
- PC to PC: If both the caller and the call recipient use computers and intend to make free internet calls using the devices, they must install a compatible PC VoIP software on both devices.
- App to App: With compatible VoIP applications installed on the mobile devices of the caller and the call recipient, free internet calls can be made between mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.