There was a time when Skype was the only Voice over IP (or VOIP) service available to the general public. Now Session Initiation Protocol (or SIP) has made VOIP available to businesses and private citizens worldwide. How can you get your piece of the action?
In this article we will cover how by using SIP and VOIP hosting services (and in some cases a small amount of hardware, too) you can use your broadband connection to add another landline to your home for nearly free.
Get on the Horn
VOIP is nothing new, especially in a time when Skype (like Google and Hoover) is so ubiquitous it has become a verb as well as a company name. Skype, while for some still the gold standard of VOIP, has been joined in the market by many competing and sometimes better quality services. Apple’s FaceTime is good and Vonage enjoyed a brief period of popularity, but now many generic services based on SIP offer VOIP voice hosted communications for residential and business customers.
What this means is that for minimal cost and even free in some cases, you can set up a local number landline for your home or business. All that’s required is an account with a VOIP provider.
Get a Provider
Getting signed up with a provider is easy. Do a Google search for “VOIP provider <insert country here>” and trawl through the lists. Many offer “set up” charges which are not absolutely necessary because on the whole you can do all the setup yourself.
For example, in the UK there is a company called SIPgate which does not charge for setting an account and accepting incoming calls if you are a residential customer but charges business users with up to five lines. In the US there is VOIP.com which charges a subscription for all levels of service.
All providers charge for calls, but the charges are usually fairly minimal, like 1.9 pence (about 3 cents in US dollars) per minute from sipgate. As with Skype, you can top up your service with credit so you can make calls.
You can even make emergency calls with some providers, but check their website for details about that. If they do, they have to check to be sure you are really a resident in the country (in case you are intending to make prank calls from afar), so to register for 911 or 999 or 112 calls, the companies may ask for your address and check it before you are allowed to make emergency calls.
It varies wildly by country and provider, but take the time to shop around all the providers in your country for the best deal. Once you’re registered, you are issued a phone number (usually you get to pick where this number seems to be from), password and account number.
Get a “Phone”
Once you have yourself set up with a provider, you need to have a means to answer the calls.
Option 1 – the easiest and quickest option while spending no money is X-Lite softphone for Windows and OS X. Download the software, and configure it using the setup instructions from your provider, usually with a password and account number.
Option 2 – you can also get SIP software for your Android and iOS devices, which is another cool option, especially if you have an unlimited data plan. The best free iOS option is Zoiper, and the best iOS and Android paid app is Groundwire.
Option 3 – if you want to take it up a notch you can add a VOIP phone adapter and plug a regular phone into it.
Configuration of the standalone adapter devices is by web browser.
Option 4 – The top of the line solution is a specialized multi-line capable VOIP phone like this one and this one. They just plug right into the Internet but are a little more expensive than other options.
Picking Ethical Numbers
Okay, this is something shady that telemarketers have picked up on. Register with a worldwide VOIP service, pick a number local to another country and phone the public to market to them. Being resident in another country, you are not bound by the NO CALL lists in the country in question. This is evil and disruptive and sleazy.
Don’t be that guy. Obviously there are legit reasons you might want to have a phone number in another country. Having a business which does business mostly with the US but being based in the UK is a totally legitimate reason to have a US number.
For the most part, it’s ethically and legally best if you pick a phone number in the area code closest to you. Obviously if you want to appear to be a bigger or more significant company than you are, then you pick the nearest big city to you or the nation’s capital. Those are also legit reasons as they are a way to gently boost your marketing credibility.
But otherwise do yourself and everyone else a favour; don’t be a scammer or use VOIP for shady purposes. Only crooks do that.
Do you have any tips for VOIP phone installation in your home? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Billy Brown