Free VoIP Services: Not Necessarily Free
Though not a new technology, VOIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, has recently begun gaining ground on the traditional long distance telephone industry. Simply put, VOIP is the ability for a person to talk on the telephone over an Internet connection. Using a variety of types of equipment to switch analog sound bits into digital data packets, VOIP has made placing long distance phone calls more efficient, more convenient, and much less expensive. Because there is no phone company or long distance provider involved, there are no monthly fees, long distance toll charges, or other charges associated with a traditional telephone bill. There are many VOIP service providers out there, and more cropping up on a regular basis. That means there is a demand for these providers to offer even lower cost services than they already do. In an effort to increase customers, some providers are now offering what they call "free" VOIP services. It is important to be aware that this type of service is not truly free.
A primary problem with so-called free VOIP services is the limitations that are often placed on the service subscriber. Many "free" providers limit the people you can call to only just users of the service you are yourself subscribing to. Sometimes you can call members of other "free" VOIP services. Because the commercial VOIP service providers, such as Vonage, connect to a traditional phone network, paying subscribers can call anyone with a telephone, whether it is connected to the Internet or not. As a subscriber to a "free" service, you can't place calls into the public telephone network, and those on a public network can't call you. This restriction negates the potential convenience that VOIP offers.
There are some "free" VOIP service providers that now offer customers the opportunity to call anyone, whether members of the service or not. This, of course, comes at a price. Service providers can offer this possibility to their customers at arguably lower rates than conventional long-distance providers, both domestically and Internationally, covering most of the globe. Though this is still cheaper (and probably a lot more convenient) than traditional long distance phone service, it is not free, and should not be advertised as such.
Subscribing to any of the free VOIP services are not truly free of cost. Chances are if you are interested in VOIP, you already have a home computer equipped with a soundcard and speakers. But if you want to subscribe to a VOIP service, you are required to have a broadband Internet connection, as dial-up just won't cut it anymore. Though prices for broadband Internet have come down, it is still a little more costly than dial-up, averaging $30-$40 per month. In addition, you will probably have to invest in a microphone that is specially equipped with an analog-to-digital converter and a USB connector. This will allow you to talk through your home computer when you place calls. Or, you can purchase an IP phone or headset that plugs directly into your home computer. This allows you to talk into a handset or headset, and have a dialing mechanism, much like a traditional telephone. Many IP phones come with a number of added features. Though these are one-time start-up purchases, it is important to note that service providers claiming to offer totally free VOIP services can't really fulfill their claims.
VOIP isn't too good to be true. It has the potential to forever alter the course of telephone communications. It is flexible (you can travel with your phone and phone number around the world), it is more than reasonably priced for the services you receive (services often include Call Waiting and Caller ID as part of standard service - features you pay extra monthly charges for with a traditional phone company), and it is convenient (you can check your voice mail from your email account, the voice reception is often clearer, and you don't get dropped calls like you do with a mobile phone). But, as with many other products and services, you get what you pay for. So, beware of "free" VOIP services. They are not always free, and if they are, they are most likely very limited in what they can offer their customers.
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