After signing up with a VoIP service provider you need to get a phone which connects to the Internet. Some providers will include an IP phone as part of their package but other plans specify that you supply your own equipment. IP phones have an Ethernet jack that plug into the router of your broadband Internet connection. Ethernet connectors are similar to regular phone connectors but about twice as wide.
If you want to use a traditional analog phone set with VoIP you can get an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) — a small box which contains the hardware and software necessary to convert your voice into digital data and send it over the Internet. The ATA has an Ethernet connector and a regular phone plug connector.
The advantage of using an ATA is that you don’t have to buy new phones — just plug in the phone you are currently using, either wired or wireless. An IP phone, however, is more convenient for taking advantage of many of the extra features that are included free with your VoIP account — call display, call routing, call forwarding, voicemail and many others. You can still use these features with an ATA, but you may need to configure your VoIP account at the service provider’s web site.
There are many IP phones on the market ranging from simple residential phones to complex phone terminals designed for business use. Even basic models, however, have an LCD display for caller ID and phone configuration. More advanced models may have features like speakerphones, headset interfaces, customized rings, and programmable keys which allow you to quickly access certain functions of the phone.
Do you want to go wireless? Although you can’t yet get the freedom of a cellular phone with VoIP, you can still use wireless phones within an IEEE 802.11b wireless network. These phones are suitable for residence, campus and enterprise use.
Besides being cheaper, included in the basic service package are things like call waiting, call display, and call forwarding. You can take advantage of all of these features with an IP phone. When your phone rings, the LCD screen displays the caller information. You can choose to accept the call or redirect it to voicemail or an error message.
Rather than manually routing each individual call, you can set up rules for certain types of calls. For example, anonymous calls could be routed to your voicemail, or calls from someone you wish to avoid could be routed to an error message. Calls can also be forwarded to an outside number.
Some VoIP services operate the same as traditional phone services. Call waiting, for example, allows you to take a second call if you are already using the phone line. When another call comes in you hear a short beep and you can switch between the two calls by pushing a button.
If you wish to keep your calls anonymous you can block your caller ID. This way, when you are calling somebody with call display, your name or phone number will not be shown. This feature can be set for all of your calls or just for selected ones.
If you do not wish to be disturbed, you can route all calls to your voicemail or to a message saying that you are unavailable. With this setting, your phone will not ring until you reset it.
A very handy feature of IP phones is the ability to store names and phone numbers. You can scroll through the phone book or set shortcut keys to commonly called numbers. Every call that comes in can be automatically added to your phone book and you can easily edit or delete numbers at any time.