VoIP FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about VoIP

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What is VoIP?

VoIP (which stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol") is a very simple but extremely valuable service that allows you to make phone calls much more cheaply than through your old phone company. All of our recommended VoIP services replace both your local and long distance services and work with your existing telephone. All the providers that we recommend allow you to make calls exactly as you would with your old phone service. You use the same phone, pick it up and dial just like you always have, whether you are calling your friend next door, around the world, or need to call 911 for an emergency. It sounds the same to both you and the person on the other end. You can also keep your existing phone number.

The biggest difference you'll notice is the price. VoIP companies can provide this service so cheaply because calls are sent through the Internet rather than phone lines. VoIP providers have all the features you would expect, such as call waiting, caller ID and voicemail. The difference is that the providers we work with include all of these features in the cost of your service. VoIP providers also have additional free services that you can't get from the phone company, such as checking your voicemail from your computer anywhere in the world, email notifications when you have a new call or message, or phone numbers with non-local area codes. Click here to view our recommended providers.

What equipment do I need to use VoIP?

You need to have a broadband Internet connection (cable, DSL, or satellite, not dial-up) to subscribe to a VoIP Service. Most problems that consumers have with VoIP are the result of a slow or unreliable Internet connection. See "Is the call quality and reliability as good as traditional phone service?" below for information on our recommendation for testing your ISP for VoIP quality both before and after ordering a VoIP service.

Once you receive your package shipped from a VoIP service provider, even the most technology-challenged can get the service set up in just a few minutes. All the VoIP providers we work with will provide you with any equipment you might need, which is usually just a simple phone adapter that you connect to your broadband modem or router. Then you plug your existing phone into the adapter, and you are ready to go.

What kind of calling plans do VoIP providers offer?

All the VoIP providers we work with offer plans that include all local and long distance calls to the U.S. and Canada for one flat rate, including all your phone features such as voice mail, call waiting and caller ID. You can either get plans for a certain number of minutes, such as 500, or for unlimited minutes. Most of the unlimited plans cost only around $20 per month. Some providers, such as Lingo, include all calls to Puerto Rico as well and also offer all-inclusive plans for calling Europe, Asia and other areas.

What features do VoIP providers offer?

VoIP providers offer all of the features that traditional phone companies do and many more. They are able to offer these additional features because of the advanced nature of VoIP technology. Below we list features that all of the providers we recommend on our site offer. In addition, all of these features are included in the price quoted. Most traditional phone companies charge over $20 a month for these features alone. All providers offer additional features as well so check their site for a full list:

  • Voicemail
  • Call waiting
  • Caller id (with name)
  • Use of your number and VoIP service from anywhere in the world at no additional charge (you need to bring an adapter and have a high-speed connection, or have a mobile device with a VoIP program installed)
  • Free in-network calling
  • Online account management
  • Online call logs
  • Online voicemail access
  • Email voicemail alerts
  • Call return (*69)
  • 3-way calling
  • Call forwarding
  • Caller id block
  • Your choice of area code

How much money will I save?

With VoIP plans starting at less than $10 for 500 minutes and less than $20 for unlimited minutes, most VoIP subscribers save hundreds of dollars a year, especially considering that the average cost of mobile or landline service tends to be around $25 or more.

Which VoIP service has the lowest international rates?

We took a sampling of per-minute rates to 9 commonly called countries. This will be useful to those who want to choose a domestic plan, but plan to occasionally call internationally. We chose either the basic rate to the country, or the best-known city, depending on how the provider lists them. We totaled the costs per provider to gauge which has the cheapest overall prices. Of course, we encourage you to check each service's website to see the rates for the countries and cities you call the most.

Sample International Rates (shown in cents per minute)

VOIPo 1-VoIP Axvoice Vonage ViaTalk Lingo 8x8
Australia 5.1¢
China 1.5¢ 2.4¢
France 1.5¢ 2.4¢ 2.4¢
Germany 1.5¢ 3.6¢
India 1.5¢ 11.5¢ 2.9¢ 5.9¢
Israel 1.5¢ 2.9¢
Mexico 13¢ 2.5¢
Phillipines 22¢ 17.3¢ 12.9¢ 11¢ 27¢ 25.9¢ 18¢
UK 1.5¢ 3.7¢
Total 49¢ 42.3¢ 26.4¢ 22¢ 63.1¢ 61.7¢ 44.3¢

Is the call quality and reliability as good as traditional phone service?

Our testing, as well as other third-party, independent research, continues to show that most consumers find VoIP quality and reliability as good as or better than traditional phone service. In a 2006 study by research firm Telephia, 71% of VoIP users found that VoIP was equally as reliable as traditional landline service, with 16% finding VoIP more reliable and 13% finding traditional service more reliable. Similarly, in a January 2006 survey by Consumer Reports, half the users found VoIP and traditional phone service equally reliable, with the rest evenly split as to which service was more reliable. In terms of call quality, the Telephia study showed that 67% of users found VoIP and traditional phone service to have the same quality, with 19% finding VoIP better and 14% finding it worse. 57% of the Consumer Reports respondents found VoIP quality to be as good as or better than traditional service, although 43 percent found traditional service better.

Most VoIP quality issues that consumers face are caused by a slow or unreliable Internet connection. The higher the speed of the connection, the more likely it is that you will have excellent call quality. We recommend that you have at least 1 Mbps upload and download speed in order to have good voice quality. Typically the download speed will not be a problem but occasionally upload speed is too low because of subpar service from an ISP. Regardless of your Internet speed, however, we still recommend that you order one of our recommended VoIP services, install it, and make some phone calls to make sure the quality is acceptable. Only after verifying the quality should you cancel or make changes to your existing phone service or initiate number transfer. Since all our recommended providers offer money back guarantees, you should pay close attention to their requirements and if the service does not work well enough, cancel the service and get your refund.

Can I keep my current phone number?

Yes. Any of our VoIP providers will allow you to transfer your existing phone number to their service.

A few things to keep in mind: First, the most important thing when transferring or "porting" your number over to VoIP is that you must have your new provider complete the transfer before you cancel your phone service. If you cancel your service prematurely, you will lose your rights to the phone number. Contact your new provider for more information about porting your number over, as they will handle the process for you.

Second, if you have DSL service on your phone number's account, you will not be able to transfer your number without losing DSL service. In some cases, you can "decouple" your service and have a separate dry-loop DSL line and phone account, which would allow you to cancel just the phone portion.

Do I need to keep my existing phone line?

No. You no longer need to keep your regular phone line active and most VoIP subscribers do cancel their existing service. The main reason some people decide to keep their regular phone line is that in a power outage, your VoIP service will not work because it is dependent on your broadband connection, which is in turn dependent on power (your VoIP service also will not work if your broadband Internet provider has a service outage). However, many people today already use cordless phones, which are dependent on power and therefore also do not work in a power outage, even with traditional phone lines. Additionally, most people have wireless phones as a backup. Users with DSL Internet service through their phone company need to keep in mind that most DSL providers will require you to maintain a phone line and number to get DSL. Thus, you will likely have to keep a phone line in order to maintain DSL service, but you can change your traditional phone service to the minimum required. Alternatively, you could switch to a cable Internet service provider.

How do I make calls with VoIP?

Exactly the same way you make calls with regular phone service. You pick up the phone, hear a dial tone, and dial your number. A few providers do require that you dial an area code even for local numbers.

Will 911 emergency calling work with my VoIP service?

Yes. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that as of November 28, 2005, all VoIP providers must provide Enhanced 911 (E911) service to new customers. E911 is the most advanced 911 service available and is able to locate your phone number and location immediately when you call 911. When you sign up for VoIP service, you will enter the address you will be making your calls from. If you move or take your VoIP service with you when you travel, you can simply update your address online with your VoIP provider for 911 purposes.

Can I send faxes with a VoIP service?

Yes, but only certain services offer full support for faxing. Of the services we currently recommend, only Vonage, ViaTalk, VOIPo and Lingo offer full fax support. Because VoIP services process voice and fax calls slightly differently, we strongly recommend you purchase a separate dedicated fax service if you want to have fax capability. Vonage, ViaTalk and Lingo offer a separate dedicated fax line free as part of their business calling plans. Vonage and VOIPo offer a dedicated fax line as an add-on to their residential phone plans for under $10 per month.

What about international calling?

All VoIP providers offer very cheap international calling, much cheaper than the phone company. Check each provider's site for the most updated rates. Some providers, such as Lingo, include calling to Puerto Rico for free in their basic plans. Lingo also offers plans that offer unlimited calling to places like Europe and Asia for one low flat rate.

Do I have to be a U.S. resident to use VoIP?

While VoIP is available anywhere there is an Internet connection, NextAdvisor.com has focused mostly on providers that offer phone service primarily for U.S. residents (and in some cases Canadian). However, as long as you have a valid U.S. address and credit card to bill your service to, you can use any U.S. VoIP service from any broadband connection in the world and get exactly the same rates as you would from the U.S.

What about guarantees and cancellations?

Many VoIP companies offer a satisfaction guarantee or trial period. During this period you can cancel without incurring any cancellation, disconnect, or rebate recovery fees. You'll also be able to either get a refund on unused months (if it's an annual plan) or get out of your monthly payment obligation. You may have to pay for the month used during the guarantee period, and shipping and handling are often not refunded (nor are any overage charges). Equipment must also be returned in complete working order. Canceling after the guarantee period will often cost you. We do our best to note these details, but you should always check the terms and conditions when you sign up.

What is a disconnect fee?

A disconnect fee is charged when customers cancel an annual plan after the trial or guarantee period. It's essentially a penalty for breaking the contract and is very similar to what you find with cellular phone companies.

What is a rebate recovery fee?

Rebate recovery fees are often applied to accounts that are cancelled after a trial period ends. These are often separate from cancelation fees, as they apply to promotions or discounts given to users when they sign up. Essentially, the companies want to recoup the losses for anything they gave you for free, since you'll no longer be a customer. In general, you'll find them on annual plans that offer pro-rated refunds, or plans that have monthly payments but still require a year's commitment. See individual reviews for details.

How did NextAdvisor.com review these VoIP services?

We actually signed up for and used each consumer VoIP service here so we could review for ease-of-use, call quality, and support levels. That means we ordered the VoIP equipment, installed it, used it for calling, and played with the special features. We were very interested in how easy the services were to set up, as well as whether there were any appreciable differences in audio quality. We also made sure to contact customer service representatives so we could judge the helpfulness and availability of support. Customer support quality is a big deal to many users, so we wanted to be sure it was represented. Finally, we pored through the Terms of Service agreements to explore different plan details.

VoIP for business is a little different. Since we can't test an enterprise-level service in-house, we primarily reviewed the plans based on price and service features. We are working on better ways to test these plans, and hope to have improvements soon.

We only included VoIP providers that we believe offer a good value proposition. If there is a provider you know of that is not here, you can be fairly certain we did not rate that provider highly enough to include in our comparison. If you think we are missing a quality VoIP provider or have any other suggestions or comments, please visit our contact us page.

What are the advantages of business VoIP?

Business VoIP is cheaper and more convenient than traditional phone service. You'll generally pay one low monthly price for unlimited calling. You'll also have the freedom to add and change lines, employ advanced features like call hunting and voicemail transcriptions. Best of all, you don't have to rent or buy an in-house PBX system.

Why shouldn't I just go through a traditional phone company?

VoIP is much cheaper. Because calls are routed through the Internet, VoIP companies are able to save you money. The phone company has long enjoyed a comfortable monopoly, because it owned or leased the lines. For example, we were able to save over $200 per month on an office of 10 lines.

What special features are available?

Business VoIP offers business-class features such as an auto-attendant, web-interface voice mail, call follow, Internet faxing, conferencing, and more.

Are there additional costs associated with business VoIP?

While VoIP is cheaper than traditional telecom service, there may sometimes be a setup fee, though it's often waived. Also, if you don't have VoIP-enabled phones already, there will be additional charges for phones. However most customers find they can recoup these costs within the first year alone.

How much can I expect to pay?

There are many variables, such as number of phones, type of calling, and any special add-ons you may want. Depending on the service, you can pay as little as $9.95 per month, plus fees and taxes. We recommend that you request a quote from the different companies we've reviewed, to see which one can give you the best deal.

What is the call quality like?

Call quality is comparable to regular phone service, and far better than the cellular phone quality most of us are used to. Most people will not notice any difference at all between VoIP and their regular phone service.

What about faxing?

Most VoIP companies will allow you to use a fax through a separate fax number, which requires a charge for an additional line. But there is an option: most VoIP companies include Internet-based faxing, many even offer it for free. Internet faxing technology allows you to use email or a web-based interface to send and receive faxes, saving you money on ink, toner, and fax paper, as well as freeing up space in your office.

What does PBX mean, and why does it apply to business VoIP services?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange and it's used to describe the technology for routing phone calls through a multiline system. Traditionally this involved complicated wiring and a PBX system that would be worked by a receptionist. It's a less popular term than it used to be because VoIP is making it a bit irrelevant. With VoIP, all that switching is done over the Internet, technology that's often called "hosted PBX." You can still have a receptionist with business VoIP, but most services offer an auto-attendant for automatic call routing.

Top VoIP

Rating:

Bottom line: Lowest price ($6.21/month) if you pay for 2 years upfront, great sound quality, $0 setup costs, and U.S.-based customer support
Rating:

Bottom line: Included calling to 60+ countries w/ Vonage World, great quality, no set-up fees, money-back guarantee
Rating:

Bottom line: Limited international calling plan, but excellent customer service and a great range of features
Rating:

Bottom line: Nice call quality and relatively cheap plan, yet some cancellation problems
Rating:

Bottom line: Competitive prices and excellent international plan, but high initial cost and porting fee are off-putting
Rating:

Bottom line: Well-priced, varied plans, but very limited customer service: a mixed bag
Rating:

Bottom line: Solid plans from reliable company, unlimited calling to 50+ countries, disappointing call quality

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