Even as Hosted VoIP phone service gains widespread acceptance and adoption rates continue to be strong, I continue to answer questions like “What is VoIP?” and “How does it work?” almost every day. Read on for a brief primer on the technology of VoIP.

What is VoIP?

VoIP is an acronym – the telecom world is full of them! It stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. As a voice technology, VoIP is becoming as disruptive to business communications as the plain old telephone line was to the telegraph more than a century ago. Other terms that you may hear used for VoIP are IP Telephony, Internet Telephony or Digital Calling.

How Does a VoIP Call Work?

Many of the basic elements of the telephony that delivered calls a hundred years ago are still part of a telephone call today. The phone call needs a microphone that you’ll talk into, something to convert your voice into electrical or analog signals, a way to carry those signals to a destination and a receiver which reverses that process and converts the signals back into your voice for delivery through a speaker at the other end.

With VoIP you still need a microphone and conversion to an electrical signal – and the call still needs to be received similarly at the other end. However, while that analog signal would be transported to the receiver over copper wire way back when, using VoIP the analog signal analog is converted to a digital signal. The digitized voice is put together in data packets – a collection of bytes – and is channeled through gateways and servers (over the Internet so to speak.) On the receiving side the packets are converted back to its analog form so it can be heard as the sounds that were originally spoken by the caller.

What Other ‘VoIP’ Technology Terms Should I Know?

As you are learning about VoIP there are a couple of other ‘technological’ terms you may hear that might be useful for you to be familiar with:

  • QoS – Quality of Service. This largely comes from prioritizing voice over data packets to deliver a predictable level of bandwidth/speed to avoid dropped packets, delay, jitter and latency to deliver a quality voice service.
  • PoE – Power over Ethernet. This term describes where the power for your phone comes from. If your switch allows, the phone can be powered through the Ethernet (data) cable. Otherwise, a separate power cord and electrical outlet is necessary to power the device.
  • Codec – specifically stands for Coder-Decoder. It converts the audio signals into the digital signals. Different codecs will deliver different sound quality.