By Elizabeth Rodgers
VOIP stands for Voice Over IP. OK, Voice Over Internet Protocol. (Say IP instead of rolling out the words, you'll sound much cooler.) What is this, you ask? Essentially, it's a phone line that works over your fast speed Internet connection (either cable or DSL -- don't make me spell it out for you), instead of a regular (or analog) phone line.
What does it mean for you? It means drastically reducing your telephone bills and in some instances, free international calling. To be clear: you use an existing telephone – the computer does not make the calls for you. (Actually, you can call from your computer, if you want, but more on that later.) Where else can you call France as part of a flat rate of $25/month. Can it replace your primary line? Not yet, or at least I wouldn’t tell you to start off that way. But it works really well if you:
- Make a lot of long distance calls
- Make a lot of international calls
- Want a second line for your kid or
- Want an inexpensive home office fax line
My preferred brand is Vonage because I’ve used them, had relatively few problems and the rates are great. Is it perfect? No. Occasionally, it’s staticky. Your internet service could go down and hence, your phone. But for all the features, the cost and the convenience, you can’t go wrong. Is it worth it? Absolutely. And just a quick note on VOIP that makes the call from your computer: there is an exciting new FREE technology called Skype. All you have to do is buy a headset that connects to your computer and you can call anywhere in the world: to land lines for a very small charge and FREE to cell phones and to your friends who are also on Skype. On PCs, you can even video chat for free. The website leads you through very simple instructions on how to download and use the software. There are currently over 100 million Skype users. Yes, 100 MILLION. I’ve used it and the connection has been crystal clear. There are no subscription fees or setup fees. It’s great for talking to your kid who’s away at college or even your tech-savvy father-in-law in Idaho. How wrong can 100 million people be?
Elizabeth Rodgers and her husband Jonathan Fishman are the founders of Ben's Ranch, a home IT service company in Santa Monica, California. Elizabeth writes about lifestyle technology -- technology that goes beyond the personal computer and improves the way you life all aspects of your life. She also writes for television and film. She and her husband live in Venice, California with their two kids, Issac and Zelda.