December 17, 2004

To VoIP or not to VoIP

PC World has a great article for those of us considering going VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), "Is an Internet Phone Right for You?" Many folks are looking at their monthly broadband, landline, and cell phone bills, and searching for ways to pare them down without losing functionality.

VoIP is an option, but there are some notable differences and trade-offs to address. VoIP may or may not be a good choice depending on your overall data and voice needs, and ability to do disaster planning. For example, landlines still work when the electrical power is out. If you need a backup Internet connection when your cable goes out, dial-up will still work.

However, as the article points out, you can still have VoIP functionality if you purchase an UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply, and not Universal Power Supply per the article) to power the broadband modem, VoIP telephone adapter, and I'll add, your network router. Note that sooner or later, the UPS battery supply will run down. Same problem with using a cell phone. (I'm not willing to drain my laptop's battery to charge the cell during a power outage, nor do I want to run my car to charge it either.) But over the long run, VoIP can provide some interesting cost savings, and so I remain intrigued by it.

Here's a tip of my own: If you go VoIP, make sure your network router (wired or wireless) has a QoS or Quality of Service feature. Multiple transmissions can occur on your network (e.g., downloading a multimedia stream on your PC while someone else is using the VoIP phone). When that happens, QoS automatically enables your router to grant higher bandwidth priority to the VoIP phone, so it doesn't stutter or cut out. Some routers, like Linksys, have recently added QoS features to their new and existing routers via a simple firmware upgrade. So if your router doesn't support QoS, visit the manufacturer's web site to see if it's been added since you bought it.

Having more choices is a good thing, as long as you know what you're getting yourself into. In this regard, PC World has done a great job of answering many of these questions in nearly plain English, and they list nine major VoIP service providers to save you some Googling. I haven't let go of my home landline yet, but I've been tempted greatly this year. It's a heck of a wake-up call for the traditional phone companies (pardon the pun).

[Thanks to Sabrina for the link.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard