While old fashioned phones and mobile phones use telephone lines to connect you to the person on the other end of the line, VoIP uses broadband.
The term VoIP refers to anything that would normally be done using a traditional telephone line that can now be done over the Internet. This includes calling someone, or sending a fax or text message.
VoIP is increasingly replacing traditional phone lines as the preferred way to communicate by phone. Many major cable service companies now sell ‘digital phone service’ – which is fancy marketing speak for VoIP – as do a whole crop of new companies like Vonage.
The main advantage of VoIP is that because it uses broadband, it’s much cheaper. This means that one set of infrastructure can be used for internet, cable, and telephones, instead of needing three different sets of wires. This doesn’t save consumers that much money, but can make a big difference to businesses, especially to those that make lots of international phone calls!
VoIP also allows you to have one phone number that travels with you, no matter where you are. New York, Paris, Shanghai? Just ring me up on my Skype or Google phone number!
But there are disadvantages, and most of these have to do with how VoIP technology performs in emergency situations. First, VoIP technology relies on electricity to work. If your power goes out, your modem won’t be able to connect to the Internet and you won’t be able to make phone calls. During a normal power outage that’s probably ok, but what if there’s a hurricane?
The other problem is that VoIP makes it harder to figure out where the caller is located. Traditional phone lines are extremely location based. One phone number, one discrete location. This means that 911 call centers can always trace the phone call even if the caller does not tell them their location.
VoIP makes this a lot more complicated. Because your VoIP number can travel with you, it’s not so easy to figure out where you are. Usually they can make pretty reasonable guesses based on IP Addresses, but they are nowhere near as accurate as traditional phones.
Cocktail Party Fact
A new crop of tech startups have been creating new ways that we can use phones and VoIP. Twilio, a tech company based in San Francisco, has made an API that allows you to create web apps that you can dial up or text with your phone.
John Keefe, a developer at WNYC (New York’s biggest public radio station), used Twilio’s API to make an app that allowed bus riders in Brooklyn to call a number to find out how many stops away their bus was.
Pretty convenient, no?