What can VoIP newbies benefit from?For the uninitiated, VoIP might seem like a mysterious concept – at first glance, using the Internet to make calls doesn’t seem like dependable form of communication. As such, there are a number of questions or misconceptions that would-be VoIP users or VoIP newbies likely need answered before they start using the technology. To help you not only understand how VoIP works, but also help you decide if VoIP is right for you, we’ve answered five of the most common questions we get regarding VoIP.

Do I need to be connected to my computer to use VoIP?

This is a common misconception among VoIP newbies. While this question is one we were asked a lot more in the past, it is still one that we get often enough and it’s probably because there are services like Skype or Facebook calling features, which require a smartphone or computer to use. This confusion arises because there are actually two types of VoIP services – soft phone services and hard phone services. VoIP soft phone services use software installed on your computer or smartphone (like Skype or Facebook) to make calls from your device, while hard phone services use a physical stand-alone device, like a VoIP phone purchased from the service provider or an analog phone you already own connected to a VoIP adapter. All of the VoIP services we review are hard phone services, although a few might allow you to forward your number to a mobile device or use an app to extend your service beyond your home. Although soft phone services and hard phone services are different in the way they function, both allow you to use high-speed Internet to place or receive calls. It should be noted that the other information in this post relates to VoIP hard phone services.

Does VoIP work if I’m using the Internet?

Another misconception is that VoIP phone calls can’t be made while someone is using the Internet. That might have been true when it first was invented, but unless you have dial-up or satellite Internet — both of which are not recommended for VoIP — it’s likely that you have the capacity or bandwidth to support Internet use with concurrent VoIP use. Keep in mind, bandwidth is limited, so this doesn’t mean you can have multiple gamers or video-streamers online while making a call and not expect the quality to degrade. That said, if you have high-speed Internet from a reliable provider, you shouldn’t have any major issues.

Can VoIP users call 9-1-1?

VoIP users definitely have access to emergency services, but the way its set up is a little different than traditional landlines. If you call 9-1-1 from a landline, the emergency responders know where they should go because the number is assigned to a specific address. On the other hand, VoIP numbers are assigned to IP addresses, which cannot be accurately traced to a physical address. To alleviate this issue, VoIP users utilize a service called Enhanced 911 (E911), which requires all VoIP providers to collect and store their users’ physical address associated with a VoIP number, so if the user calls 9-1-1, the emergency responders know where to go. VoIP users are automatically enrolled in E911 when they sign up for a VoIP service, which is why new users you have to provide the physical address where the VoIP service will be used. If you ever move (and take your VoIP service with you), you’ll want to be sure you update the address with your provider so your E911 information is also up to date. Although E911 functions the same for all VoIP services, you’ll want to be sure you reach out to your VoIP service provider to see if it has any special procedures for how you can contact emergency services during a power outage or other special policies, as not all services have the same policies across the board.

Am I able to keep my number?

Individuals on the fence about VoIP might be wondering if they can port (or transfer) their existing number, usually a landline, to their new service. For many services, the answer is yes, but it is something that can be circumstantial. For example, individuals in certain states like Alaska usually have trouble porting numbers with a few VoIP services. That said, most of the services we review allow you to verify if you can move a number over before letting you sign up, so it’s a question you’ll definitely have answered before paying for a service. Another thing to know is that porting isn’t instant — it can take up to 10 business days to complete — so that’s something you’ll want to be plan around or ask your potential provider about.

Can I block numbers?

The final concern a lot of readers ask us about is whether or not they can block calls. Given how frequent spam and telemarketing are, it’s something that’s likely of great concern to many people. The good news is that many VoIP services allow you to block specific numbers or types of calls, usually through an interface that gives you several types of options for dealing with unwanted calls. For example, most services offer a feature called whitelists, which only let calls from known numbers (or ones you saved in your VoIP account) through. VoIP services also allow you to easily change your number altogether if you continue to receive unwanted calls.

VoIP isn’t for everyone, but if you understand the service and how it works, you can decide if it’s right for you. For more information about VoIP services, including how these services work, what you need to set VoIP up and more, keep reading our VoIP blog.