Types of VoIP Features

how to connect

Summary of All the features offered by VoIP

Many people make the switch from a regular telephone service to VoIP telephony because of all the useful features offered by the latter. From basic features like call waiting and caller ID to more advanced technology like distinctive ringing and international blocking, you will be surprised at how many advantages VoIP telephony offers its users.

First, you should familiarize with the basic features that typically come with your VoIP service. These will be similar to those offered by a regular telephone company. For instance, you will be able to easily redial your last outgoing call, use call waiting, see an incoming caller’s ID, forward your calls, get 411 directory assistance, make a three-way call, access your voicemail and dial 911 for emergency.

One of the reasons people hesitate to give up their normal landline is because they think that VoIP telephony must be lacking in some department. Not true. As indicated above, you won’t be missing out on any of your regular telephone features when you make the switch to VoIP. In fact, you will be gaining a lot more features and they will often come free from your VoIP service provider.

Advanced VoIP features are plentiful and include the ability to block anonymous calls, easily change your phone number, choose distinctive rings for specific callers, choose any area code, keep a phone number indefinitely, block telemarketers, make free long distance calls to other VoIP users, block specific numbers from anywhere in the world and leave a “do not disturb” notice to would-be callers.

Another very important VoIP feature, which deserves special notice, is Enhanced 911. Also known as E911, this service will instantly route your specific address to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). This will immediately alert the PSAP to your whereabouts. However, you need to first register your address with the PSAP, as they need to have your location on file.

Most, if not all, of the above features will be available to you for no extra charge. Depending on your VoIP service and equipment, you may receive even more features than the ones listed above. As the technology advances, who knows what’s in store for VoIP users. As it stands, you will be afforded many advantages with this newer telephony service.

3-Way Calling

Have you ever needed to talk on the phone with two people at the same time? This can be achieved on a VoIP phone with 3-Way Calling. The feature is offered by most VoIP providers and is very simple to use. It can come in handy for both business and personal calls.

How it Works

You can effortlessly use 3-Way Calling on your VoIP phone by following these easy steps:

  1. Dial the first person’s number and wait for him/her to answer.
  2. When that person is on the line, push either the “Flash” or “Hook” button.
  3. Dial the second person’s number and wait for him/her to answer.
  4. When the second person is on the line, push the “Flash” or “Hook” button again.
  5. Now, you can speak freely with both parties on the same line.

What You’ll Need

The 3-Way Calling feature comes standard with many VoIP packages, but not all companies offer it as a basic service. You should check with your provider to see if it is a basic feature or if it is available as an advanced feature for an additional charge. If you are in the process of choosing a service provider, 3-Way Calling may or may not be an important feature on your checklist.

Types Offered

Currently, VoIP companies are only offering 3-Way Calling, not multi-line conference calling. Speaking with more than two people at the same time isn’t an option, though it may be in the future. Some companies offer the 3-Way Calling feature with a basic package, free of charge. Others consider this feature advanced and will only offer it with a subscription fee.

411 Service

Individuals located in the United States and Canada have dialed 4-1-1 for decades to reach local directory assistance for decades. One exception was in the Pacific Northwest, where people dialed 1-1-3 until the mid-1980s. The 411 number also has been used for long distance directory assistance. But, in recent years this number has gone through some changes to keep up with technology.

This service also is known as: 411, 411 Services, Wireless Directory Assistance Services, Automated Directory Assistance Services, 4-1-1, Operator and Directory Assistance Services, 411 Directory Services, 4-1-1 Calls, Internet Directory Assistance Services, Wireline Directory Assistance Services, DA Services, 411 Calls, and 4-1-1 Services.

How It Works

Up until the mid-1980s, phone users dialed 411 to reach local directory assistance, and many states did not charge for that service. But, since that decade, charges have been applied for using that number. Approximately two to six billion calls are made to 411 within the United States each year, and this comprises a $7 billion per year market. Users also dial 411 for long distance directory service, although the traditional number for long distance directory service is 1-area code-555-1212.

Now, wireless phone users can take advantage of a consumer-choice and privacy-protected “Wireless 411 Service.” This service provides wireless customers with the choice of including their wireless phone numbers in voice 411. This service allows any landline or a wireless phone user to call 411 and be connected to the wireless listing of a person who has chosen to participate in this service.

Things to Look For

Consumers who choose to opt-in are assured that they will not have their information disclosed for print, online directories, lists, or telemarketing firms. Businesses that use wireless technology, however, may want to list a number with these services and that opportunity is available.

This service has seen its share of debates, as proponents for the opt-in list want their numbers used, whereas other users are afraid that they may end up with a previous business number that has been listed, or that their number will end up in the database without warning. These listings, according to opponents, could end up misplaced or sold nefariously and begin an unending stream of unsolicited sales calls from telemarketers to numbers that will cost money to answer through wireless phones.

Users also can find phone numbers using “free” 411 services online. For instance, Google added Goog-411 as a free telephone-based information service in 2007. Individuals dial 1-800-GOOG-411 to reach a completely automated service. Other online services exist as well, where you can type in the business name and location to find the number.

911 Service

Though VoIP telephony offers many advanced features that aren’t available from a traditional phone company, there can be limitations when accessing 911 service. While you can dial 911 from your VoIP phone, your 911 operator may not be able to detect which number you are calling from or where you are located. You can circumvent potential dangers, however, by opting for an enhanced 911 feature, also known as E911.

How it Works

Your VoIP phone number is different from a standard phone number, as it isn’t associated with a particular location. This can be an advantage to you, as you will have the chance to place free long distance calls to those within your network and choose any area code. However, in an emergency, you will want a 911 operator to know exactly where you are in an emergency.

Many VoIP companies are now offering the advanced feature known as E911. By registering your address with the correct, local 911 call center, an operator will quickly have access to pertinent information when you make an emergency call. If you are going to be exclusively using VoIP in your household, it is recommended that you opt for the E911 feature.

What You’ll Need

When choosing VoIP companies, make sure they offer E911. This should definitely be on your checklist of important criteria when selecting a provider. Once you enable your VoIP service, register your address immediately with your call center. No one else will do this for you, so it is important that you put your address on file as soon as possible.

Depending on your provider, this advanced feature may come with your service free of charge. Since you can’t put a price on a person’s life, a nominal fee shouldn’t be an issue, however. In the end, you will still be paying far less for VoIP than a standard phone service and you will have access to many more useful features.

Types Offered

There are still VoIP providers that offer a basic 911 service, meaning that you can dial the number with the danger of your operator not knowing where you are calling from. Among other things, E911 service is what you should look for from a company. Many major providers, such as Vonage and SBC, have made the transition to E911 for the safety of their customers.

Call Forwarding

Call forwarding, also known as ‘call diverting,’ allows the user to divert incoming calls to one phone to be sent to another phone or phone number. This service can replace voicemail for a person who is in another location away from the main phone line; however, the forwarding also serves as a way to stay in touch when traveling or when away from that main line. Forwarded calls, for instance, can be directed to a mobile phone that travels with the person who is using the forwarding. In some cases, the calls are forwarded to a call center, where a customer or other caller will talk to a human being and leave a message rather than talk to an answering machine.

How it Works

Most phone companies now offer a program where calls are forwarded to any phone of the customer’s choice. In some programs, this service is called, “Follow Me,” or some similar phrase. Some services may offer international call forwarding by allocating for the customer a local virtual phone number which is forwarded to any other international destination. In all cases, the phone customer only needs to ask for the service. This service may be free, or the phone company may charge for forwarding calls.

Special types of call forwarding can be activated only if the main line is busy or if there is no answer, or for specific phone numbers. The North American Numbering Plan (NANP), which is an integrated telephone numbering plan of 24 countries and territories: the United States and its territories, Canada, Bermuda, and 16 Caribbean nations, generally uses a vertical plan to control call forwarding. This plan is activated and deactivated using various programmable features which the phone company or the customer may activate. In Europe, the general syntax for all European service codes follows a pattern CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) standards developed in the 1970s on both POTS and ISDN lines. This pattern of activation, deactivation and reestablishment of call forwarding services is universal across the European Union (EU). GSM/3GSM (UMTS) phones, however, carry different standards. In all cases, the phone company will advise on how to program a phone, if necessary, to carry out the call forwarding service.

What You Need

To activate a call forwarding service, you would need a phone, mobile or otherwise, and a telephone company that offers call forwarding in its service plan. In most cases, phone companies carry this service as part of a package that might include other services such as call waiting and caller ID. In each case, the phone company will have instructions on how to activate, deactivate and reestablish call forwarding services.

Types Offered

As mentioned previously, call forwarding can be activated with several choices: all calls forwarded to another phone or phone number; calls forwarded when the main line is busy or if unanswered; calls incoming from select callers and more. The choices will depend upon what your phone company has to offer.

Call Return

Call Return service, also known as “Call Back”, “Return Call”, or *69 service, is a telephone feature code provided by telephone service providers to allow the called party the opportunity to return a missed call. Often, the missed call is noted with a time called and a number to reach to return the call, and the provider also may offer a feature to return the call without providing this information. Some providers also offer a feature to return a call without dialing the number. Access numbers for this feature may vary from country to country and from provider to provider, and this number or code is known as the “trigger number” that activates the return call. Typically in the United States, the trigger number is *69.

How It Works

Call Return services are offered through landlines and through wireless and VoIP technology. This service can save users from missing calls while away from the phone, use it for long-distance call savings, and it provides a convenient way to screen phone calls in to your phone line.

Users can save money on outgoing long distance phone calls when using an international cell phone abroad with this feature. Most wireless phone carriers around the world charge high airtime rates to make outgoing calls from a cell phone. However, they almost always offer free or cheap incoming call rates. A call return service takes advantage of these low incoming call rates, to help you save money on your outgoing long distance calls.

When you sign up for a call return service, you usually are provided with a list of local trigger numbers for every country around the world used by your provider. When you are in a destination country, you can use your cell phone (with a local SIM card) to call the trigger number. A computer at a return call center will answer and you hang up. A few minutes later you will receive a return call from the center, and you will be prompted to enter the long distance phone number you wish to call.

Plus, the call return feature is convenient for those who wish to screen calls, but this works only when the service provides a number related to the incoming call. Some providers do not provide the number. But, once you dial the trigger number provided by the telephone service provider for this service, a voice prompt may tell you the number of your last incoming call. After this announcement, the call will be placed automatically. If you do not wish to dial that number, simply hang up.

Things to Look For

The call return feature may not work if the original caller uses a number blocking feature. Also, calls marked “private” or “anonymous” can be rejected with any anonymous call rejection feature if this is a feature provided by your telephone service provider. The other features offered, such as the ability to see the incoming number and the ability to call a service center, may or may not be offered by various VoIP services, cell phone providers or landline companies. These features may be a matter of personal choice as well.

Call Waiting

When you make the switch from standard telephone service to VoIP service, you will not have to sacrifice call waiting. Better yet, this feature is offered at no additional cost by most VoIP providers, something you can’t say for traditional, conglomerate phone companies. Call waiting is, of course, when you put someone “on hold” so that you can take another incoming phone call. It is invaluable to many of us, as it affords us the chance to take every call.

How it Works

When talking to someone through your VoIP phone, you will be notified if another person attempts to call you. This notification comes in the form of a distinctive beep, not unlike the call waiting feature offered by landline telephone services. However, VoIP improves on this call waiting feature, as you will have the option of being able to tell who is calling you on the second line.

Switching over from one caller to the next is very simple. Your phone will have either a “Flash” or “Hook” button. Press it once and you will answer the new incoming call. That will put your original caller on hold. To go back to the original caller, you will simply press the button again.

What You’ll Need

In order to use VoIP call waiting, you will need either an analog phone and converter or a VoIP phone/headset to speak through. Both will allow you to use the call waiting function. Of course, you will also need a computer, high-speed Internet connection and VoIP service. If you are already using VoIP, then you probably won’t need any additional equipment/software, as call waiting is a basic feature.

Types Offered

Most, if not all, VoIP providers offer a basic call waiting feature with their service at no additional charge. Also available from many providers is a deluxe feature that combine call waiting with caller ID, as mentioned above. This allows you to see who is “beeping in.” Note that this deluxe version of call waiting may not be free. Although it is often nominal, some companies charge an addition fee. Be sure to check with your provider before opting for call waiting/caller ID.

Caller ID

VoIP Caller ID is a feature that allows users to identify incoming callers by phone number and sometimes name. This feature is not unlike the caller ID application that is available from traditional phone companies. However, VoIP caller ID is more likely to show just a number, not a name.

How it Works

A caller’s identification is detected on a VoIP phone when the incoming caller’s IP address is verified. This information is programmed by the incoming caller’s service provider. However, it is possible for some callers to hide their identification when placing outgoing calls. This can be done by entering a special code before a phone number. This code differs according to a caller’s location and service.

VoIP providers often program their customer’s Caller ID information to include a phone number and not a name. If you are receiving a phone call and the Caller ID lists only a phone number, you can sometimes identify a person’s name by using a reverse phone directory. There are several available online and they are free of charge.

What You’ll Need

Most, if not all, VoIP providers offer the Caller ID feature to their customers. However, this feature is not always available for free with a standard service package. If you wish to identify incoming VoIP callers, you should check with your provider to see if this service is available. The Caller ID feature is important to many people, as SPIT (Spam Over Internet Telephony) is expected to increase as VoIP becomes mainstream.

In addition to signing up for the Caller ID feature, you will need to make sure that your hardware is wired properly to receive the information. You may need an updated VoIP phone, a Caller ID box or Caller ID software. Since each customer may require something different, you should confer with your service provider to make sure you are capable of receiving Caller ID information.

Types Offered

There are many different Caller ID systems in place all over the world. However, you will only need to concern yourself with the Caller ID feature offered by your VoIP provider. This will be either a basic feature, included with your service, or a subscription service. Your provider will help you to properly configure your computer and phone to receive Caller ID information.

Click to Call

As if VoIP wasn’t expedient enough, the Click-to-Call feature will allow you to dial someone’s number with a simple click of a button. Yes, it’s the VoIP version of “speed dialing,” though it is possibly even more convenient than that. If you have certain people that you are used to calling on a regular basis, the Click-to-Call feature will allow you to do so quickly and with ease.

How it Works

The Click-to-Call feature will work with a desktop application, such as Microsoft Outlook. When you first set up your Click-to-Call service, you will program all of the phone numbers that you call frequently.

Once you have programmed your numbers into your application, you will simply have to click on a number, which is essentially hyperlinked for your VoIP phone. Your phone will be the first to ring once you click on a number. When you pick up your phone, then the number you dialed will ring.

What You’ll Need

For the Click-to-Call feature to work, you will need to be signed on with a VoIP provider that offers the service. One that is in place and you are able to use VoIP, you will need to download a Click-to-Call program to your computer. It is a very simple feature to install and use.

Types Offered

All Click-to-Call features from various providers work in a similar fashion. Some companies, such as Vonage, include this feature with a standard service package. So, you may be able to use this handy feature without paying any additional fees.

Some websites are beginning to offer a hyperlink for VoIP customer service. This is also a Click-to-Call feature, enabling you to click on the hyperlink (which automatically dials a number) and connect with a customer service representative via your VoIP phone. As VoIP becomes more prevalent in the mainstream, you will probably see this option on more sites.

Fax over IP (FoIP)

Fax over IP (Internet Protocol), or FoIP, allows users to fax documents over the Internet instead of using a standard fax machine. Many VoIP services provide this feature, so it may seem a logical progression for businesses and individuals to utilize FoIP when VoIP also is used in a specific environment. The consolidation of separate voice, fax and other data resources offers the opportunity for savings and has become a popular choice for many network managers who seek to utilize excess broadband capacity for transmissions over traditional communication.

How It Works

FoIP enables standard fax machines to work with packet networks by extracting the fax image from an analog signal and carrying it as digital data over a packet network. Historically, two methods have been used for sending FoIP networks: the real-time methods (T.38) and the store-and forward method (T.37). The primary difference in the two approaches lies in the delivery and method of receipt confirmation.

T.38 is the fax transmission protocol selected for H.323. Fax data in its original form is digital, but it is modulated and converted to analog for transmission over the PSTN. This analog form uses 64 kbps of bandwidth in both directions. FoIP IWF (interworking function) reverses this analog conversion by transmitting digital data over a packet network and then reconverting the digital data to analog for the receiving fax machine. This conversion process actually reduces the overall bandwidth required to send a fax, because the digital form is more efficient and the fax transmission is half-duplex (meaning only one direction is used at any given time). The peak rate for a fax transmission is 14.4 kbps in one direction.

As a side note, fax machines still retain some advantages over the FoIP protocols, particularly in the transmission of sensitive material. Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA mandates require that sensitive materials cannot be sent encrypted over the Internet. And, in some countries, digital signatures are not recognized by law whereas traditional faxed contracts with signature copies are accepted. Therefore, traditional fax machines may retain a place in the office for many years.

What You’ll Need

To communicate effectively using FoIP, a fax server provided by a FoIP service provider would be employed. Look for the number of users and licenses offered by any given provider, and research any answers that would address the effects of delay through the network, a solution that minimizes the jitter effect, and features that resolve lost-packet compensation.

Also seek a provider that would provide compatible software or hardware that would work with any existing VoIP networks. The IWF must support analog interfaces that directly interface to fax machines at the branches and to a PBX at the central site. The IWF must emulate the functions of a PBX for the fax machines.

Types Offered

Fax machines in common use today implement the ITU recommendations T.30 and T.4 protocols. The T.30 protocol describes the formatting of non-page data, such as messages that are used for capabilities negotiation. The T.4 protocol describes formatting of page image data. T.30 and T.4 have evolved substantially over time and they currently attempt to describe the behavior of an evolving set of fax machines. The timing related to the message interaction and phases of the call is critical and is one of the major causes of problems in the transmission of FoIP networks.

Encrypted Calling

When people communicate through a VoIP telephone, audio signals are transported in packets of data. Should a hacker retrieve one of those packets while they are traveling, an unprotected packet could be decoded. In other words, people can eavesdrop on your VoIP calls if you don’t encrypt the calls first.

There was a time when users had to possess advanced IT knowledge to encrypt their VoIP calls. Luckily, many mainstream VoIP providers are now offering built-in call encryption. Even if you aren’t discussing state secrets over the phone, this should help to put your mind at ease.

How it Works

When a VoIP provider offers built-in encryption, it means that encryption software is built into the proprietary software used by each client. When the data leaves one caller, the information is encrypted. Again, when it reaches the next caller, the data will be encrypted. Even in the event that someone intercepts a call, there would be no way to understand it.

What You Need

If you choose a VoIP provider that offers an encrypted calling service, you will not have to do anything on your end to keep calls confidential. That is, you won’t have to do anything beyond using that company’s proprietary software. However, you should always confirm that a VoIP provider offers this encrypted software before you sign up for their service and assume that everything is secure.

Types Offered

Skype was one of the first VoIP providers to offer built-in encryption, thanks to public demand. Now, other mainstream VoIP providers are following suit. Never assume that a company encrypts calls for you. You may wish to use a private network for your business calls or download additional software, such as Zfone, to encrypt your calls. However, finding a company that offers built-in encryption will be your easiest choice.

E-mail

Email does not needs an introduction, as this feature has become so ubiquitous to the private and public sectors that it has become embedded as a near-traditional form of communication among industrialized countries. Email is a means of communication between two or more parties via a network connection. The email traditionally has been sent from computer to computer; however, users today can send email through mobile phones and through VoIP services.

How It Works

The traditional email is described as mailing a letter to someone, “only faster,” as that email will arrive in a person’s email box within minutes or — if the connection is awry — within 24 hours or so. But, with the advent of mobile phones, the use of email has improved so that a message can be sent using a mobile phone device on the road or when something has happened that cannot wait to be communicated to another person. Unlike instant messaging, the email is not necessarily “real-time” communication, as — like a letter sent through a postal service — it can languish for days in an email box client before being answered.

Email features are too numerous to mention here, but a connection between email and VoIP opens up new opportunities for ways to communicate with others. When email is combined with virtual numbers, the possibilities of contacting individuals located in any part of the world through VoIP is possible. What makes this service nice is that it is perfect for the individual who wants to communicate with someone by email, but not by voice.

One such service is offered by Jangl, where users can obtain free virtual phone numbers to communicate with someone through email. This eliminates the need to know primary phone numbers, and it’s made to order for short-term business or personal relationships or for those you want to last, but that you don’t want to pay long-distance rates for.

Interestingly, Jangl will pay for the local numbers and for the long-distance calls using Global Crossing for long-haul transport. Jangl is able to use a limited number of virtual numbers, as the same virtual number can serve multiple users as long as those users are calling from different caller identifications. Other services may offer this feature in the future, and new releases may let users initiate contact simply by entering a person’s IM (Instant Message) number or ID.

Things to Look For

Email features are added so frequently to traditional computer-to-computer email clients that it would be difficult to stay on top of added technology for the average user. The same applies to the features offered by new technologies such as wireless communications and VoIP. But, if you’re using mobile services or VoIP, look for some of the same email features that are familiar to you with your traditional email service such as an address book, frequently used email address selections, easy access from any location, and the ability to store text messages in the email client for future reference.

Another point to consider is email privacy. The same issues the are involved with traditional email are also involved with email features in any other tool. Be sure to ask about or understand how to filter those messages to avoid spam attacks, email address theft and viruses.

Free VoIP

Tired of unnecessary fees and hidden charges from your phone company? Most of us are and that is one of the many reasons why people are switching to VoIP. There are numerous free VoIP services to choose from, though you should keep in mind that you will still have to pay for Internet service and the initial equipment to speak through. Also, it is important to know that VoIP’s famed unlimited, free long distance service is usually only free when you are making calls to other VoIP users within the same network.

How it Works

The technology behind VoIP allows it to be substantially less expensive than traditional telephony. VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a process where analog sound signals (the kind used with regular landlines) is changed into digital signals and transmitted through computers. In other words, you talk on the phone over the Internet, through your computer.

When you bypass conglomerate phone companies and utilize your Internet connection then you are a free agent and can embark on cost-free dialing. There are numerous companies offering free VoIP software and, if you choose a reputable company that serves your specific needs, then all you will have to pay for is the hardware for speaking through.

What You’ll Need

First and foremost, you will need a computer and high-speed Internet connection in order to use VoIP. Since you are reading this now, we will assume that you probably have both. Next, you will need to decide how you want to speak through your computer. You can either use your regular phone and a converter that will allow you to plug it into your computer, or you can use a VoIP phone.

Converters are inexpensive, as are basic VoIP phones, so just go with personal preference here. Once the initial hardware is purchased, you can easily find a free VoIP service that offers software for no charge. Some companies will charge fees for advanced features, however, so be sure to read the fine print and side with a company that best fits your needs.

Types Offered

There are several types of VoIP services available, though your least expensive choice would be to use a peer to peer network. Service providers like Skype and the Gizmo Project offer free software and all calls made to VoIP users within the same network are free. If you make frequent long distance calls to a few select people, it is very simple for the group of you to start using a peer to peer VoIP provider, thus saving a lot of money.

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging, also known as “IM” or chat, is a technology that allows users near real-time text based communication between two or more parties over a network connection. Although the ability to communicate with a person via text in near real-time makes this capability different than email, the ability to leave a message for a person who is offline narrows that difference.

Instant messaging is an Internet-based GUI (Graphical User Interface) tool that was made popular by ICQ in the mid 1990s. This was followed by AOL’s Instant Messenger in 1997. In 2000, an Open Source application and Open Standards-based protocol named Jabber was launched. Jabber servers were able to act as gateways to other IM protocols, and this tool reduced the need to run multiple chat clients on one browser. Most recently, IM features the addition of video conferencing, VoIP and Web conferencing services, desktop sharing capabilities, IP radio and IPTV – all these features seek to combine the utilies of audio and video for a real-time communication experience that can surpass any current telephonic technology.

The term, “instant messenger,” is a service mark of Time Warner, and it cannot be used in software that is not affiliated with AOL in the United States.

How It Works

The user who wants to operate an instant messaging feature must choose from various clients in service. Most often, a user will choose the service that most of their friends or business associates use. But, the limitations provided by the boundary of choosing just one client can be eliminated by using a Jabber-like client that allows use of several different text messaging services.

Also, many social networks online allow users to flow a text messaging service into a personal Web page so that friends or business associates can tap into a text messaging session online.

Mobile Instant Messaging, or MIM, is a presence-enabled messaging service that focuses on transposing the desktop experience to the mobile or wireless device. Twitter, for instance, allows a user to post messages privately or publicly from any computer or from a mobile phone or from VoIP services. Now, any tool that can be used to send a text message can be used to send text messages privately or publicly through a connected network system.

Things to Look For

The advantage of using a network to connect with text messages to one person or to thousands of individuals has proven advantageous to businesses that want to use this medium for marketing. This type of communication is advantageous to the receiver as well, as the person who receives text messages can block or eliminate a person from any text messaging list.

Users also might look for features such as an ‘autosave’ that saves text messages into an email program or into another file for future reference. Other features include the ability to contact someone who is offline to receive the message when they return, and the ability to include or to block individuals from communication. Other features, as mentioned previously, include the ability to send video as well as audio messages along with the textual format.

The item to note is that most operators have traditionally shied away from mobile-broadband networks for VoIP and IM for reasons including network capacity and latency issues. Be aware that some companies would rather push clients into a flat-priced data network service rather than offering services such as text messaging, as the latter often pulls revenues from the operator. Other companies may offer text messaging through VoIP and mobile services at a higher rate to compensate for loss of revenue.

International Calling

If you’re ready to cut your phone costs on international calls, you can look to your PC to help you out. In most cases, you’ll use your PC to connect to another PC. In some cases you can use your PC to connect to an overseas phone. These techniques may save money, although you might sacrifice quality depending upon your Internet connectivity and the software you use.

What You’ll Need

To make international calls from your PC to another computer or to a phone, you’ll need the software that will enable you to accomplish those tasks. You may need to look at two different types of software, or one software program may allow you to do both tasks. In either case, you also need a headset or speakers and a microphone.

The companies that will offer PC to PC or PC to phone international calls may offer software that you can download directly to your computer. Make sure that you’re dealing with a reliable company; otherwise you run the risk of downloading malware.

Features to Look For

The features for software and international calls are he same as those for PC to PC or PC to phone calling. Look for software the offers more than just the international services. A company that can offer local calls, fax service, call waiting, voicemail and more may be a more reliable company.

You can also make international calls through a VoIP residential service, but this would require signing up for a service. However, you can save money through VoIP, but possibly not as much as you would with the PC to PC or PC to phone services.

IP PBX

IP PBX (Internet Protocol Private Branch eXchange) is a telephone switching system that allows people to speak internally within a local network, as well as externally to other phone lines. Those who use an IP PBX will be able to make VoIP-to-VoIP, VoIP-to-analog or analog-to-analog calls. A traditional private branch exchange (simply called PBX) involves only analog lines, so the IP PBX is a newer and more flexible technology.

How it Works

IP PBX works by converting IP phone calls into traditional circuit-switched calls, thereby combining voice and data communications into one line. A traditional PBX, however, must send voice and data communications in two separate lines. With the lines converged, those using an IP PBX will be able to access the Internet, speak on a VoIP telephone and speak on an analog telephone using the same network line.

What You’ll Need

To set up a personal IP PBX system, you will need the IP PBX hardware, phones (or softphones) and software for your computer. Open source software can be found for free, such as Asterisk IP PBX. Should you opt to use a third-party to host your IP PBX, you will simply need to download that company’s IP PBX software onto your computer.

Types Offered

There are two ways to use IP PBX for your home and business communications. One is to set up non-hosted IP PBX hardware near your computers, thereby routing your information into a machine and converging all communication lines. Your other option is to use hosted IP PBX services, which routes your communications through a third-party company’s equipment.

The latter is much simpler, as it means that you won’t have to buy and install any software yourself. Also, it means that you will have access to professionals who can help you troubleshoot any issues that arise. Some people, however, prefer to have complete control over their IP PBX. Those who are technically savvy may indeed save a little money by using non-hosted IP PBX.

Keep Your Number

If you are making the transition from an analog telephone to VoIP telephony, you will have the ability to keep the same telephone number when you change services. Even if you are moving to a different location, your number can remain the same, as VoIP service is not dependent on an exact location. This feature appeals to many people who have grown accustomed to their number or who use said number for business purposes.

How it Works

You may transfer your original phone number to your VoIP line when you sign up for service with a provider. This can usually be done when you are registering for your service online or on the telephone with a customer service representative. Many people keep their original phone number or choose their own area code for a new number, so VoIP providers make this process quick and seamless.

If you would like to try out your new VoIP service before you make the phone transfer, that is no problem. Your number can always be transferred later, assuming that you still have your original phone service. Keep in mind that when you do make the transfer, it probably won’t take effect for a few weeks. In the meantime, your provider will supply you with a temporary number.

What You’ll Need

It is usually a simple process to keep your phone number when you make the switch to VoIP, even if you move to another location. However, there are some limitations. If you do move and decide to keep your old area code, this must be an area code where your VoIP provider offers service. In other words, you may not be able to keep the phone number you had in Japan when you move to America. Ask your VoIP provider for more details about the phone number you wish to choose when signing up.

Types Offered

Most, if not all, VoIP providers allow you to keep your phone number at no extra charge. This is often considered a basic feature with VoIP service packages and is an enticing aspect of the new technology. Companies like Lingo and Vonage make this a trouble-free process that can be accomplished online.

PC-to-Phone Calls

Today you can call from your PC to a traditional phone for free, and you also can get a free number where others can call you from a phone. Your PC connection will be the only limiting factor, since the service provider will use high quality connections on the other end. You can find at least twenty top-notch PC to phone services, with Skype, ICQPhone, and BlasterPhone among them.

What You’ll Need

When you use your PC to call a phone, you’ll need to download software that enables you to make a phone call from you PC to a phone. You’ll also need a headset or speakers and a microphone. And, although you’ll be connecting to a phone service, it would help to have your computer connected to high-speed cable or DSL. You can connect with a dial-up connection, but don’t expect quality audio on either end. The larger and faster your connection, the better the flow of audio on both ends.

Features to Look For

In many cases, you can make calls to the U.S. if you live outside the U.S. While most software that enables PC to phone calling provides connections to phones within the U.S., you might look for a company that offers international calls you’re your computer. Be aware that the international calls made not be made for free.

Some software only works with Windows, so be aware about whether you can use that software with your current computer setup. With that said, the software should offer services such as fax, an answer phone, voicemail, file transfer and more.

PC-to-PC calls

PC to PC calling is touted as the best way to make free phone calls; however, PC to PC calling has its share of problems. First, the person you want to talk with must be online when you call. Secondly, that person also needs to be using the same Internet phone software that you use. Finally, if you don’t use broadband to connect to the Internet (through cable or DSL), the quality of your call will suffer.

With that said, when you can establish a PC to PC Internet connection with another person, free phone calls can be the reward.

What You’ll Need

Depending upon the type of software you prefer to use, you can make PC to PC calls with anyone who uses that same software. You can choose among many online services to connect from PC to PC, but you’ll also need functional speakers and microphone for this system to function correctly.

No matter the software you use, they usually all operate the same way. You’ll need to download the software and install it on your PC, and then either hunt for, add, or ask another person to use the same software. Make sure your speakers and microphone are functional, and then click on the contact’s name to initiate the call.

Features to Look For

While simple PC to PC calling is all some people might want, you can also look for added features depending upon the software you use. Video calling, for instance, requires a Webcam in addition to your headset or speakers and microphone. Some software will allow conference calls that may include up to ten people if those individuals use computers with an Intel Duo Core Processor.

If you want to acquire a phone number for your PC, some software companies will offer numbers for a small fee. If you find a way to obtain a phone number, look for a voice mail service that will take messages when you’re away from your PC.

Other features to consider include call forwarding, where you can send messages to other users; instant message, which is the same as chat; file transfer, where you can instantly send and receive large files safely; call logs that keep track of calls and chats, and; mobility. It would be nice to use your software no matter if you’re at home or on the road.

Toll-Free Number

The 1st generation of Toll-Free phone calls began in 1967 when AT&T used this method as an alternative to collect calling to reduce the need for paid operators. This service, called INWATS, or Inward Wide-Area Telephone Service was improved by Roy P. Weber in 1978. Weber’s Pat. No. 4,191,860 was filed July 13, 1978 and issued March 4, 1980. AT&T began to use this new technology in 1981.

From the inception of 800 Toll-Free numbers to AT&T’s breakup in 1984, this company carried a monopoly on assigning 800 numbers to subscribing customers. Even after AT&T’s breakup, customers were locked into a system that forced them to choose Toll-Free numbers from large carriers. Once a customer obtained a Toll-Free number from a carrier, that customer needed to stay with the carrier or change the Toll-Free number when switching carriers.

In 1991 the FCC ordered the implementation of 800-number portability by 1993. Now, subscribers can switch from one carrier to another without losing their Toll-Free number. The FCC’s rules designate the criteria for determining the status of each toll-free number, and this organization prohibits “warehousing” and “hoarding” Toll-Free numbers.

How It Works

Toll-Free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis by entities referred to as “Responsible Organizations” or “RespOrgs,” or other toll-free service providers. These entities, which may or may not be telephone companies, have access to the SMS/800 database, which contains information regarding the status of all toll-free numbers. RespOrgs are certified by the SMS/800 database administrator, which manages toll-free service.

Businesses use Toll-Free numbers as a convenience for their customers, since the call is ‘free’ for the customer. The business pays for the call, and the originating call may be limited to the U.S., with other numbers to use outside this country. Parents now use Toll-Free numbers for their college-aged children so that the teen doesn’t need to pay for the call home.

What You’ll Need

Businesses or individuals can contact a RespOrg or other Toll-Free service provider to obtain a Toll-Free number. These entities can gain access to the database and reserve a number for subscribers. Several hundred RespOrgs and Toll-Free service providers exist in the U.S. A complete list is found on the SMS/800 Web site (SMS800.com) or a call can be placed to the SMS/800 Help Desk at 1-888-SMS-3300 (1-800-???-3300). Any phone can be utilized as a Toll-Free number phone.

Types Offered

Today, there are four Toll-Free codes: 800, 888, 877, and 866. Although 800, 888, 877, and 866 are all toll-free codes, they are not interchangeable. 1-800-234-5678 is not the same number as 1-888-234-5678. Calls to each toll-free number are routed to a particular local telephone number.

Businesses also may seek what are known as “vanity” numbers. These numbers are Toll-Free telephone numbers that also spell a person’s or company’s name or a word or acronym that is chosen by the subscriber, such as 1-800-FLOWERS or 1-888-FREEDOM. To find out whether a specific toll-free number is available, contact any RespOrg or toll-free service provider.

Virtual Phone Numbers

A Virtual Phone Number, or Virtual Number, is a telephone number that exists without an associated phone line. These numbers may be programmed to be forwarded to either a Voice over IP service (VoIP) or to a different fixed or mobile phone line. Virtual numbers sometimes are used in conjunction with email forwarding services to create a virtual office in remote locations from the main office, or to create the illusion of an office that does not exist in brick and mortar. For instance, a company may purchase a virtual number in an area code in Phoenix, Arizona to give customers the impression that the company is located in that city, when – in fact – that company may exist anywhere except Phoenix, Arizona. Virtual phone numbers can be used internationally, depending upon the company that provides such a service.

How it Works

Basically, a virtual phone number service is an enhanced call forwarding process. For many companies, sign up for a virtual number is free, and the monthly cost to maintain a number – or a group of numbers – with a specified area code is minimal. When a customer calls a number, that number is then routed to a fixed or mobile device.

Many companies have seized upon the virtual number offering to customers as a package for entrepreneurs. In this case, an individual can set up a virtual office complete with toll-free or local number, multiple extensions, live call forwarding, music-on-hold, dial-by-name directory and much more. In many cases, each extension can forward up to six or more phone numbers where you can be reached on a home, office, mobile or VoIP phone. You could also receive faxes, voicemails and email online, and some services offer video and/or picture attachments.

Beyond business applications, a virtual number also can save users money when calling friends and family long distance. If you live in Canada and you acquire a phone number in India, for instance, all your friends and family in India can call that virtual number instead of the number instead of your Canadian phone number. They will save money on their long-distance calls and you can have peace of mind knowing that they can reach you at any time.

Another market for virtual numbers includes the dating service scene. Virtual numbers provide an added layer of privacy and security for anyone who dates random strangers. Theoretically, you could acquire a different virtual number for each dating prospect.

What You Need

All you need to acquire a virtual number is a fixed or mobile phone line for the calls to be forwarded to from that virtual number. Many phone companies and separate enterprises now offer virtual numbers as part of an overall amenities package that might include call forwarding, caller ID and call waiting.

Types Offered

Several types of services are offered for virtual numbers, including entire suites that are geared to the on-the-go entrepreneur. Service types range from acquiring a virtual number for a dating service to complete packages that include FAX services and more. The virtual number usually adapts to any service you already have with your existing phone service, plus any features that the company may offer along with that virtual number. Some companies offer complete PBX solutions as well, a service that connects entire remote teams of employees worldwide.

Video VoIP (VVoIP)

Many people no longer need to justify the deployment Voice over IP (VoIP) — it works, it saves money, and it enables communication across global boundaries. What else can VoIP do for folks who want more out of this service? One option is to add video to VoIP. This capability, also known as VVoIP, adds a new dimension for businesses that want to implement video conferencing to individuals who simply want to see the person with whom they are talking with on the phone. The business applications benefit greatly from a video addition, as it allows users to avoid the confusion caused by more than one person speaking at once and the inability to discern the individual who is talking at any given time.

One sure advantage to video calls is that it opens up telephony communications to persons who have hearing problems. Video plus Voip supplies the means for that individual to read visual clues to follow a conversation as they can watch the other call participant through a real-time video.

How it Works

Many phone companies and individual enterprises are offering video service for VoIP through standalone video phones, software, and suggestions for hardware such as Webcams, microphones, sound cards and more. The user must connect all these devices and fire up the software to activate the video portion of any call. In most cases, the activation is a plug-and-play operation. Once a call is made or an incoming call is recieved, the users can – in most cases – decide whether or not to use the video device for that particular call.

What You Need

In some cases, all a user needs to bring video to VoIP is a DSL or cable connection, a video phone, high-quality video capabilities and an RCA In/Out for remote cameras and monitors. Some IM (Instant Messaging) programs allow users to make video phone calls with just a couple mouse clicks after a Webcam and microphone are installed. Some VoIP services support free video calling between two computers that have the same VoIP software installed and that have the appropriate hardware such as Webcams, microphones and sound cards. In the latter case, users can switch the video portion on or off during calls.

Other Web services provide multi-point audio and video conferencing built on peer-to-peer architecture. These services can bridge multiple chat applications and telephony streams into one big online meeting.

The phones offered for video conferencing usually are SIP- or H.323-based phones that are desktop handsets that include an LCD screen for video. Some phones include flip-up screens, built-in VGA cameras, integrated WiFi client and mapping features. Dedicated video phones are stand-alone devices that don’t need a connection to a computer. They plug directly into the network. Many of these dedicated phones support advanced display options such as picture-in-picture and have speakers for hands-free conferencing. With that said, video phones range from the simple to the complex.

Types Offered

Video calls can be an inexpensive or high-end venture for those who wish to add this capability to personal or business calls. As mentioned above, a Webcam and microphone can set up a video chat for some IM users. On the other end, companies that want to spend some money can find conferencing solutions that range from $3,000 to over $300,000. The latter option includes full-size and life-like views of other conference participants.

Some mid-range options include a setup that offers a panoramic 360-degree viewing circle along with several microphones. Even these mid-range options allow for sophisticated change of lighting and the ability to focus in on a speaker among several participants. With the high price of gas and travel these days, a look into video options for VoIP may save money in the long run for companies that rely on remote teamwork.

Voicemail

With the voicemail feature from a VoIP provider, you will be able to retrieve messages left for you by incoming callers. This system is not unlike the voicemail offered by cell phone and analog telephone companies. However, some VoIP providers will offer additional, advanced voicemail features that make accessing messages even more convenient.

How it Works

Depending on what your VoIP provider offers, you may be able to access your voicemail several different ways. The traditional method of retrieving a message is by phone. You will have a specific phone number and passcode to access your inbox from anywhere. This works exactly like the voicemail service for any other type of telephony.

Some VoIP providers will allow you to access your messages on the Web or via email notification. Audio messages can be played from your computer online or voice messages can be transcribed into text and delivered to your email address. The latter is a fairly new technology and isn’t available from all VoIP providers.

What You’ll Need

You will need access to either the Internet or a telephone in order to retrieve voicemail messages. Handheld devices and cell phones will allow you to remotely access your messages. However, you will need to remember your voicemail passcode to do so.

Types Offered

Most, if not all, VoIP providers offer a standard voicemail feature that allows you to access your messages by calling your voicemail inbox. However, major companies like Vonage and Lingo are expanding the feature to include Web and text retrieval of messages. Advanced features may cost an additional charge.

VoIP Gaming

VoIP gaming allows voice over IP telephony during gameplay, which may be a healthy or unhealthy experience depending upon the players involved. The reason behind this rationale is that gamers no longer need to switch between screens or type in text messages as they talk into headsets while hunting down their gaming opponents. Therefore, VoIP gaming allows gamers full immersion into the task at hand. While this ability to fully concentrate is beneficial for a team to coordinate and launch attacks, VoIP gaming also allows users to more fully insult the opponent without interruption.

How It Works

VoIP on systems such as XBOX and PlayStation has made multiplayer games more interactive, cohesive for teams or clans, and especially vigorous with the ability to concentrate on the game without anything more than a VoIP subscription service. Usually, the gaming capabilities are built in, and all the user needs is a headset and microphone to get active. While many games that integrate with VoIP are in their infancy, the hope among gamers is that gaming will fully mature along with VoIP services.

For many gamers, the ability to avoid text messages during a game is vital for faster hands-free action, as any instructions or motivations for the game can be made verbally through VoIP. On the other hand, it has become difficult for females to pass for males and vice versa as is often done through virtual gaming, as the voice feature will reveal a gender in many cases.

Finally, the real advantage behind VoIP gaming is that it allows gamers the ability to play games with more personalized connections without the cost of long-distance calls to players located throughout the world. This ability makes VoIP gamers some of the largest bandwidth-intensive users in the world. On the upside, if networks can learn to conserve more bandwidth with intense compression, then gamers can pat themselves on the back for helping evolve technologies that will help people collaborate more effectively in online learning environments.

Things to Look For

While VoIP often comes with gaming capabilities, the problem has been that some games have not been VoIP compatible. But, many games are coming on board with VoIP features, allowing gamers to talk with teammates from one easy-to-use location without switching screens.

As for the voice identification, some programs allow users to change or tweak a voice, allowing the gamer to adopt a different persona.

VoIP gaming already has evolved to the point that many “clans” will not allow new members to join unless that initiate has VoIP capabilities. Gamers who use VoIP feel that this service has provided an added dimension to gaming, one where the game has been taken to a new personal level via the sound of another person’s voice, rather than through impersonal text messages.

Look for built-in VoIP services for gaming, as the built-in feature allows gamers to talk to anyone who plays a game provided that they have a headset. This advantage can allow users to recruit new players or to throw insults like spaghetti up against a wall: if it sticks, perhaps that would be the advantage point to winning the game.