VoIP Phones

When it comes to selecting a VOIP phone, the first relevant question to ask is : do you need one at all? Converters and gateways are available which will hook your existing landline telephones up to the VOIP world, allowing you to make or receive VOIP calls on the same phone you use for conventional calls.


VoIP Phone


Second, you should probably decide on which VOIP provider youíre going to use before you look for a phone. You may find that the provider includes a phone as part of the package you purchase, or markets phones separately which have special features designed to make it work well with that service. Although you can usually get third-party phones to work with any given service, there are often some configuration hassles involved. If you donít have a VOIP phone already, then why not just bypass the potential grief and get one you already know will work?

Types of VOIP Phone

Itís important to think about how you want your VOIP phone to connect up to the network which will provide your VOIP services. There are three options. Here are the pros and cons of each :

Wi-fi Ė This is the ultimate in convenience. It means you donít have to bother with all the hassles of connecting your phone physically to the network. The downside is that it will only work where a Wi-Fi connection is available.

USB Ė USB is ubiquitous in modern PCs. The disadvantage of USB phones is that you will need to have your PC with you to use them, and your PC will need to be on.

Ethernet Ė a standard network connection.The main advantage here is that your PC doesnít need to be switched on for you to use the phone, but you will still need to be physically hooked up to the network.

Beyond these key differences, VOIP phones tend to vary in the way that most phones do : in their visual displays, contacts memory, audio quality and so forth.

If youíre planning to use more than just the basic voice service with your VOIP provider, and want to take advantage of options such as Caller ID, Call Waiting or Video callings, you should check that the phone you plan to buy offers the required support.

How Generic are VOIP Phones?

Looking over the VOIP phones available in the marketplace, you will sometimes see them marketed as working with specific VOIP services, for example a ďSkype phoneĒ. VOIP Providers also often sell  phones designed to work with their own service too. So how generic are these VOIP phones? Do you need to buy a specific phone to work with your favoured service or will one size fit all?

In general, VOIP phones are highly interchangeable. Bear in mind that the roots of VOIP are in PC-to-PC based calling. To make these calls, people would simply speak through a microphone attached to their computer and would listen to their interlocutor through the PC speakers. In essence, then, thatís all the simplest VOIP phone is : an extension of your PCís speaker and a microphone to allow you to speak. Donít be fooled by the physical form factor which may make it look like a traditional phone. Thereís not necessarily any magic going on under the hood.

Some phones do have more sophisticated capabilities, however, such as special features designed to work with specific services. Skype, for example, certifies phones based on usability requirements. These requirements might mean that some of the providerís details are built into the phone, meaning you donít have to go through a cumbersome sign-up process. Certified phones are also more likely to offer you access to some of a VOIP serviceís peripheral features, such as Instant Messaging, over and above the simple voice chat facility. If thereís a particular feature thatís important to you, though, you should check to see whether the phone supports it beforehand. Not all provider-marketed or badged phones support the full range of that serviceís features.  

Usually, then, if you see a phone marketed as being compatible with a specific service, it just means that using that service with that phone will be slightly easier, and perhaps only initially. Configuration details for that service will be pre-programmed into the phone, making the whole set-up process less painful.

The one thing to beware of is that some of the PC-based services require the user to sign-on through a browser before they are used. Some of the phones which are designed to remove or limit the userís dependency on the computer may not have any means of performing the initial sign-on, meaning you canít access the service.

Mobile VOIP Since Wi-Fi isnít yet ubiquitous, and many of us need to make calls while out and about, it seems we canít make a complete transition to VOIP just yet. We could either carry two phones, a VOIP handset for when a Wi-Fi connection is available, and a conventional mobile phone for when it isnít. Although this works, itís a little cumbersome, and it means you need to update two sets of contacts on the different phones.

One solution is to get a dual-mode phone. A Dual Mode phone can switch between Wi-Fi and conventional modes of operation, sometimes seamlessly within the same call (ie. you may start a call over Wi-Fi then switch to the old-fashioned mobile network when you move out of Wi-Fi range, without any interruption at all and perhaps without even noticing the change).

Dual-Mode telephony, also known as VoWifi, clearly has huge potential, but it is still an emerging technology and has not yet attained anything like maturity in the marketplace. In most cases, a dual-mode phone has to have been specifically designed to work in this way. The easiest way of ensuring you get one that works is by getting it from the company which offers the dual-mode service.

However, some phones, notably Nokia S60s and Windows Mobile devices, now incorporate generic capabilities - mainly support for the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) - which, with the right software, can be harnessed by third parties to provide dual-mode capabilities. The company Truphone has emerged as one of the leading light in this area. To use its service, you need to download the companyís proprietary software onto a compatible handset. Currently, only relatively new Nokia Series 60 phones are compatible, but this should change in future.

Fring is another provider offering a similar service. Like Truphone, it works on only a limited range of handsets, this time new Nokia S60s, as with Truphone, or Windows Mobile devices. Both providers also have working iPhone applications, but these are not officially supported by Apple, so you will need to have your iPhone unlocked before installing them and may even, ultimately, face some kind of sanctions from Apple.

If youíre looking to use mobile VOIP then, you should either look for customised phones from your mobile company which will support VOIP directly, or recent high-end phones (Nokia S60, Windows Mobile or iPhone) with generic capabilities which allow a third-party service to be used.

Itís worth noting that a mobile version of Skype is available as a Java applet which runs on a wide range of handsets. It cannot use local Wi-Fi connections though. All calls are carried over the mobile operatorís network then transferred over the Skype VOIP network. The end result is calls which are usually more expensive than standard telephone calls. All mobile Skype calls will cost you something, even if youíre on the receiving end. If keeping in touch with your Skype contacts is important to you, however, it may be worth considering this option.

For those who want to mix and mingle VOIP with fixed line telephony even in a single location, dual mode landline telephones are also available. (Business VoIP)

VOIP Phones Ė Conclusion VOIP phones are still rather expensive when compared to normal phones. It is likely that these prices will come down soon as the technology itself becomes more popular, but in the meantime the savings on call costs should at least repay your investment.