Making free or cheap calls on the internet
For many in a small business saving money is as critical to the bottom line as making money. If you use land line phones a lot then you may be interested in using a phone system that utilises the internet. This system is called VoIP. It essentially uses the internet to carry telephone calls the same way in which it uses the internet to carry emails.
Many large international companies have moved to VoIP as they see it as a way to save money on phone calls. By using the internet you can bypass conventional phone companies and enjoy much cheaper phone calls. Unfortunately there are some downsides which we will explore a bit later.
Understanding the basics of how VoIP works
To get VoIP, you will need to sign up with a service provider who will route your calls both within and outside the internet. The most popular service providers will use their own software program to provide VoIP. These services are extremely popular, but they are reliant on your PC.
If you run the service provider’s program on your existing PC; it will provide an electronic phone-book, and will enable you to see when other users you know are available. Calls to users of the same system are usually free, and subscription costs free or low.
You typically pay most for calls to the ordinary telephone system.
Because the program is free, it is quick and cheap to equip a whole business with the technology but you will need to have your computer on whenever you wish to make or receive a call – no problem if you normally have your computer on all day, an annoyance if you don’t.
VoIP Infrastructure requirements
As these calls are made using a PC, there are a number of basic infrastructure requirements:
- This system requires a recent PC with at least a microphone and an internet connection.
- You will need to download the service provider’s software client. This is usually free.
- For the best experience and the best savings, a broadband internet connection is required.
- Some users prefer to use a headset, because this can improve the clarity of the sound and eliminate the ‘echo’ of the conversation that may be heard when a microphone is used in combination with speakers.
VoIP Features, pros and cons
PC-based VoIP uses a software application on your PC to organise calls and pipe your voice across the internet. The major features of this kind of service typically include:
- The ability to view whether your contacts are online.
- Text messaging and file exchange systems.
- The ability to quickly and freely set up teleconferences.
- Low or free subscription rates, and the ability to talk to other users free of charge.
- Some providers are currently offering or trialling video services.
NOTE: Calls to conventional telephones attract charges, although considerably below those of normal providers, especially for international calls.
The main disadvantage of PC-Based VoIP telephony is its reliance on your PC – the PC must be on to make or receive calls. You must also be quite close to your PC, although some companies are selling devices like a cordless phone which integrate with PC-Based VoIP packages.
The main advantage is the low start-up cost. If you already have a recent PC and broadband, chances are you already have the required equipment. The VoIP application or program is free, and if you have several people with similar setups whom you regularly phone, the savings could be instant.
There are a number of suppliers of VoIP systems. Specifications and functionality is changing on a regular basis, so identify your supplier carefully and make sure they fit your requirements:
We do not recommend specific products or suppliers; instead we provide you with a representative sample which covers the range of suppliers/products available. You may choose to look at these suppliers or products but this is entirely at your discretion.
About the author
The Business IT Guide Team
The Business IT Guide website provides entirely free, impartial content to help small businesses use IT. Areas covered include websites, selling online, marketing, security, IT skills, software, equipment and email.