Read these 13 Residential VoIP Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about VOIP tips and hundreds of other topics.
Will Residential VOIP service work in a power outage? In a word -- no. Like your computer, the Residential VOIP service requires a modem/adaptor to access the Internet. In a power outage, the modem stays dark and so does anything connected to it. Traditional land lines do not need to be powered from within the home, and can still work in a power outage.
Here's another difference between residential VOIP and the digital phone service offered by your cable company: Residential VOIP offers video calling and the cable company's digital broadband phone service does not. Go figure... the cable company doesn't offer video. Ironic, but at this time it's true. Many residential VOIP services offer video calling plans, using a special videophone or calling through the computer with a webcam and headset.
What's the difference between the broadband phone service offered by your local cable company and a residential VOIP service? Price, for one. Time Warner Cable, for example, charges $39.95 monthly for unlimited digital phone service. But VOIP services offering similar unlimited calling plans can be had for about half that cost, including a free adapter to use to connect your phone to the Internet.
Residential VOIP voice quality has come a long way in the past few years. You should notice little-to-no difference between your Residential VOIP phone and your land line phone. But here are a few tips if you're concerned about voice quality on your Residential VOIP line:
* Use a good-quality phone. You can buy a special VOIP phone or use a standard phone with an adaptor. But a cheap phone is going to sound cheap, no matter what service you use.
* Get a service with a tryout period/money-back guarantee. This way, if it turns out you don't like the voice quality of your Residential VOIP line, you won't be stuck in a contract or lose a lot of money.
The only hardware that is absolutely required for Residential VOIP is a high-speed Internet connection -- cable TV or DSL, for example. Most VOIP providers will give you an adaptor that lets you plug your home phone into the Internet connection. If you want to integrate VOIP into an existing home network, you can get a router that's VOIP-friendly, and use it as your network hub. You will need a computer, however, to use Skype, the popular no-cost VOIP service that's getting a lot of attention right now.
Cost is obviously going to be an important factor when choosing a Residential VOIP provider. You can get commercial Residential VOIP Plans for under $15 per month, or free if you choose a no-cost VOIP service like Skype. But don't choose your Residential VOIP provider based solely on cost considerations. Make sure to consider these factors, too:
* Look at features like call-waiting, three-way calling and web messaging. These should be included in the basic cost of the plan.
* Will the Residential VOIP provider allow you to keep your current phone number?
* Does the Residential VOIP provider have a solid, working plan for routing 911 calls? Not all providers can provide 911 service, which is especially important if you want to make VOIP your main residential phone.
* Does your provider offer a money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee? This will be critical if you're thinking of going with a newer, lesser-known provider.
In terms of security, think of your Residential VOIP calls like email. You're probably satisfied with firewall software on your home network and don't go the trouble of encrypting your personal email. But you probably also don't use email to transmit your credit card number or other sensitive information. Residential VOIP is as secure as any other application on your network. You should treat it accordingly. Skype does offer encryption services on calls running through its network.
How you save on Residential VOIP depends on a few factors:
* What kind of service are you switching from?
* What kind of calls do you make?
* What kind of hardware investment you need to make at start-up?
You expect to pay around $20-$25 monthly for unlimited calling within the US. If you're paying more now, especially for metered toll calls, you'll save money. If you make a lot of international calls, you will likely save even more, as Residential VOIP international calls are usually only a few cents per minute. In terms of hardware, most services will offer adaptors and even some routers for free or very low cost. So if you make a lot of long-distance and international phone calls and use the equipment provided by the VOIP service, you can count on saving 75 percent or more off your current bill.
Emergency 911 access is a concern with Residential VOIP services. Commercial services are being required to come with workable 911 plans, since VOIP services do not automatically work with 911 the way landlines do. But many services still have a long way to go to meet FCC requirements. And free services, like Skype, do not have any 911 service. Make sure you know what a provider offers for 911 access before paying out anything, and consider keeping a cheap second phone line or cell phone as a 911 back-up.
Digital phone service from the cable company means you can't take your digital video with you -- literally. Your phone is attached to your cable connection in your home and you use it in your home - and that is where it stays. Residential VOIP, however, is usually portable. With many plans, you can use your laptop as a digital phone, and make local calls from anywhere. This makes it a lot easier to make calls -- and even answer your phone or return calls from anywhere.
No VOIP services charge taxes. Commercial land-line and cell providers are required to charge taxes. This is another way Residential VOIP can save money for its users. VOIP is considered an Internet-based service, like email or web browsing. These services are not (yet) taxable. However, this benefit comes with a caveat: VOIP services aren't regulated either. So VOIP providers are not required to meet the same governmental standards as commercial land line and cell providers.
Considering a move to Residential VOIP? It could be a good move, especially if you make a lot of phone calls. But make sure Residential VOIP is right for you. Before signing anything, make sure you can say "yes" to at least one of the following:
* I make a lot of long-distance phone calls from home and would like my monthly bills to be lower.
* I don't like paying the taxes that add on costs to my monthly phone bill.
* I run a home-based business and would like to reduce my overheard.
* I want my local number to look like I am calling from a different city or state (I live in Maine, but I want a NYC phone number).
* I want lots of features -- 3-way calling, call waiting, etc. -- and I don't want to pay any extra for them.
In many ways, Skype stands up to hype as a free service. It is truly free, as long as you call other Skype users. And there are no costs for set up or extra hardware. But Skype needs to run through your computer, doesn't have emergency 911 service or phone number portability, and you lose it if the power goes out. So it's best to see Skype as a second service, an ultra-low-cost alternative for long distance and international calls.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|