With broadband becoming practically ubiquitous and with increases in bandwidth and reliability many home users are turning towards VoIP as a viable cost effect replacement for their landline. To compound matters mobile phones have become equally pervasive with most homes having several devices so each user typically has their own personal mobile making the shared landline almost redundant. However, it is a costly redundancy, as landlines do not come cheap, with monthly line rentals charged whether the landline is used or not. With these factors in mind, home users are looking for cheaper alternatives a VoIP is now a viable option.
The History of Residential VoIP
VoIP is not something new it has been around since the turn of the millennium and has been adopted by many home users and small businesses. Despite this VoIP has a varied record of success. Early adopters came across VoIP through Skype, whose dominance in the early years made its name synonymous with VoIP and video calling. Despite this commercial and global success Skype was mainly an outgoing calling application that worked on PCs and similar computer devices. This limited its use as far as replacing the home landline went as many people continued to associate it with PC-2-PC communications long after it had introduce Skype telephone numbers for incoming calls from the PSTN (public service telephone network) and facilitating international cheap rate calls for outgoing calls to landlines and mobiles.
The Issues facing Residential VoIP
In order to compete against the PSTN landlines companies such as Vonage and VoIP.com started up residential VoIP residential service, which allowed homer users to connect their existing phone via an ATA (analogue telephone adapter) and an internet connection. These companies also established themselves as not just VoIP service providers but as suppliers of both free local and regional calls as well as international cheap rate calls. These services were very popular with urban customers as the internet could be relied upon, however in suburban and rural areas VoIP was workable but not nearly competitive with the PSTN landline quality and reliability. Another problem was that neither these services was able to supply 911 emergency calling or directory services and this meant that although you could make cheap calls of dubious quality they still needed to keep their expensive landline – paying rental only – for possible emergency use. Yet another issue with VoIP was not just internet outage but power outage, if the power went out in rural areas so did the VoIP line, leaving the home user potentially without any form of communication. The popularity and reliability of mobile networks has since mitigated most of that risk, but it was an issue in the early 2000s.
Despite some of the early inhibitors residential VoIP continued to grow in popularity as quality and reliability improved. This gradual shift in home users’ perception of VoIP being an unreliable, low quality telephone service to it being perceived as reliable and of equal quality as a mobile network came through improvements in both voice codex and the availability and affordability of increased broadband bandwidth. Codexes are compression techniques used to decrease the amount of bandwidth used during a telephone call. Despite a full telephone call on the PSTN being only 64kbps, it is often necessary to greatly reduce this for VoIP as the calls are travelling over the internet and have to compete with other internet traffic in the home such as streaming video and movie downloads.
VoIP and Mobile Apps
The emergence and popularity of the mobile phone has probably done more than VoIP to cause the slump in the number of PSTH landlines in more ways that we can first see. It is not just the mobile phone being a personal device and is therefore favored over the shared home landline for personal making and receiving calls, because it is not necessarily, so as mobile network calls can be expensive. What seems to have triggered the slump in PSTN landlines is more the unintentional, and in some cases unwelcomed, collaboration of both the mobile network a VoIP. With the introduction and rise in use of Smartphone, there has been a new communications model, which is to use a VoIP app on the mobile device to make calls through either Wi-Fi or the 3G/4G broadband internet connection on the phone. VoIP service providers have added mobile apps to their feature lists to entice customers away from using the PSTN landline and mobile networks. This of course has not gone down well with some mobile operators who have tried to get the services banned, and in some countries where the operator is government owned they have banned SIP (session-initiated protocol) services, and VoIP. SIP is the protocol that VoIP uses to support not just call initiation and maintenance but many of its advanced features. On the other hand, these countries that block SIP on their firewalls are becoming the exception now and calls using VoIP going to a destination in a SIP restricted or banned country will be automatically diverted across to the PSTN if calling a real PSTN number. Therefore, even though the cost of making the VoIP call will be more expensive it will still go through to the destination landline or mobile phone, however if you are calling a virtual number (SIP address) on a mobile app it will be blocked.
VoIP has many advantages for the residential or home business user; the primary one is cost savings in landline monthly rental charges, cheaper long distance calls, and mobile phone applications. In addition, some VoIP services provide ‘find me/follow me’ services which will allow the user to configure a number of phones or extensions that will ring consecutively or simultaneously until answered. This feature provides true mobility as you can still answer calls coming into your home VoIP telephone on your mobile if you are outside the home. Other features that make VoIP perfectly suited for home business use is that unanswered calls can go to voicemail, which can be sent to email for you to read on your phone or computer. Voice and Video conferencing is another great feature for home business as you can save time and expenses on attending meetings and product presentations. In the upcoming articles in this series, we will detail which vendor services are available and which features they support as a guide to residential and home business VoIP services.