There are a number of companies promoting IP Telephony based solutions. A classic example of this is Vonage. The question I get asked is what is it and should I use it? The answer is that it depends.

The first basic answer is that IP telephony basically uses your Internet connection for phone calls. Thus if you make a call, your call does not use a phone line in your house, but rather uses your Internet connection.

Before we get into the details about which is better, we need to review the background. A traditional telephone network is switched in nature. What this means is that when you call someone, you have two dedicated connections (listen and talk) between the two people on the phone. This connection is created based off of the phone number and then is broken when you hang up. IP, the protocol used by the Internet is different. In an IP environment, data is sent in the form of packets. Thus a voice is broken into many small packets and these packets are sent over the Internet and reconstructed at the destination. The thing to be aware of is that these can travel different routes to the destination and so the order they arrive may not be the same as they were send. (e.g. A,B,C could arrive in another order e.g. A,C,B)

What does the above really mean?

Benefits of IP Telephony:

  1. Cost – These services tend to be substantially less expensive than traditional telephony.
  2. Portability – With these services you are identified by a unique ID to the carrier. This idea is not geographic sensitive so you could connect your device in California and still receive calls at your 617 number
  3. Features – IP telephony based systems often offer more advanced functionality than traditional telephony such as web-based voicemail

Negatives of IP

  1. Reliability – THis is not to say that the service providers are not reliable, but rather is a testament to Internet connections. Generally broadband networks are built much less reliably than telephone networks. For example, if your power goes off, your phones will still works and your Internet connection typically won’t. Ask your self, which goes out more, Internet service or phone service? Remember the IP telephony will only be as reliable as your Internet connection.
  2. ence on Internet Connection – Since the phone is based off of your Internet connection, it will be impacted by the utilization of your connection. If you download/upload large files or perform any other action that requires a substantial amount of Internet bandwidth, your phone will be negatively impacted
  3. Sound Quality – This has improved dramatically over the years and is probably pretty close; however remember since IP Telephony is not using switched network, voice quality will vary depending on network utilization or Internet traffic problems.
  4. 911 Service – This was an early problem with IP Telephony since it is no longer affiliated with a physical location. You should check with your carrier to ensure that 911 services work properly. In some cases dialing 911 will not work properly which is a very bad thing.
  5. Service – If you have a problem you will likely have to work with your IP telephony provider and your high speed Internet provider. The problem here is that the service I have found from my Internet Provider (my cable company) is not nearly as good as that from my telephone company. The last time I had an Internet outage, it took them a week to get here and fix it. If I had IP telephony, I would have been out of service for that time. My telephone company is much more responsive.

Which would I choose? In my neighborhood, Internet connectivity is not reliable. To me reliability relates not just to my house maintaining signal, but also the network as a whole. It is not uncommon for us to lose cable signal for short periods of time every few weeks. This is not a major problem for TV, but is not acceptable for our telephones. We also lose power now and again which of course also causes problems with the Internet while our phones still work.

My general recommendation is that IP telephony is a great option for an extra phone line, but I would not recommend it for the primary house phone. There are just too many issues around support and reliability.

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