VoIP is often called many different things such as IP Telephony, internet telephony, hosted voice, internet phone, digital voice, voice over broadband, broadband phone, virtual phone and broadband voice. The list goes on but at the end of the day, all these fancy names are referring to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Everyone knows what "voice" means but what does it mean to send it over "Internet Protocol" and what is "Internet Protocol" anyway? In layman's terms, Internet Protocol or IP is the internet. So Voice over IP means simply sending your voice over the internet to the person that you are talking to. Before VoIP the voice always got sent to your local phone company and they routed your call over the PSTN. To get into more detail though, and further answer the question "What is VoIP", IP is the principal protocol in the internet layer or network layer of the OSI model that characterizes a communication system in terms of layers.
There are a lot of steps involved in transmitting voice over IP. When the call is originated by the caller, the call signaling and media channels are setup. The analog voice signal (you talking) is then digitized, encoded, packetized and then transmitted as IP packets over a packet switched network.
Getting back to the terminology confusion, VoIP and IP Telephony are actually different. While VoIP is the protocol used to transmit and receive voice, IP Telephony is referring to the actual phone systems that use VoIP for communication.
To use VoIP in your home or business, it is exactly same the process and you can use exactly the same phone as you used with your old PSTN solution. All you need is an analog telephony adaptor so that the digitization of your speech can happen prior to transmission on the internet. If you prefer to avoid yet another piece of electronic equipment, you can simply purchase IP Phones that perform this digitization locally within the phone, and as such, no ATA is required.
For VoIP to work effectively and to get a good quality of service that does not sound like a bad cell phone connection, you need to ensure that you have enough bandwidth on your internet data connection. If you don't, then the voice will not sound very good at all, especially if video downloads are happening when you are on a call. Don't worry though as voice packets do not take up much bandwidth and you can test whether or not you have enough by running our VoIP speed test.
The benefits of VoIP are well communicated in the media and throughout this website but it is also important to be aware of some of the challenges around VoIP. For example, now you know what VoIP is and you are interested in trying it out, how do you get the actual service? Well that is fairly straightforward as there are hundreds of different VoIP companies out there but the challenge is that each of them offers a slightly different service at a slightly different price point with slightly different features. So it is important to do your research and be comfortable with this decision. The great thing is that you are almost guaranteed to save money and due to their typically being no contracts for VoIP, you can always change VoIP providers if you are not happy for whatever reason.