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VoIP - A Closer Look At Choosing An Internet Phone Service

Voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) services are certainly becoming more and more popular and for the most part it's because they are a quality alternative to traditional landline and cell phone based calling plans. I'm no prophet but the future of the technology and how people make phone calls is definitely pointing towards VoIP.

As is the case with most new technologies trying to decipher through all the hype and claims is a daunting task indeed and with companies popping up left and right to grab their share of this ever increasing pie, it gets more challenging by the day.

So what do you do? Well, on the positive side, virtually all of these new web-based phone services (VoIP) are packed with features, including unlimited local and long-distance calls and yet, they cost less than most traditional plans. Another plus is how simple they are to set up. Most simply require that you plug your regular phone into an adapter connected to your computer.

Of course, what is and what isn't essential in any plan is debatable but a few "essentials" you may want to consider when choosing which VoIP provider to go with are outlined below.

Connection Compatibility One of the few VoIP requirements is a high speed connection but with the ever expanding reach of broadband into all parts of the country access to a high speed connection is no longer restricted to just the major metropolitan areas. That being said, all high speed connections don't provide enough performance to handle IP calls, so before you start researching different service plans you should take a look at Test Your VoIP to see if your connection is up to snuff. The test is free and it should take less than 30 seconds.

Assess Your Calling Needs You need to ask yourself a few questions before you go out and select a provider because if you don't know what you're looking for it's pretty difficult to find it. A few questions you should consider are: What do you want most out of your phone provider? Are you looking to just cut costs?

A basic plan that offers a bunch of long-distance minutes is extremely inexpensive and if that's all you care about perhaps that's the route you should take. On the other hand, if you want business flexibility you should consider a small business package that costs more, but adds services like conferencing, a separate fax line, even an 800 number.

Want to take it on the road? Vonage and others offer "soft phone" services, which let you make and receive calls on your PC. Another option to consider is where you place the most calls. If you make a ton of international calls, you might want to consider one of the smaller players like Lingo, Broadvoice or CingUCel that offer unlimited dialing to select countries. Another nice VoIP feature is that most providers treat calls to Canada as domestic long distance. Determine where you call the most and then match the most appropriate service to your needs.

Feature Comparison Virtually all VoIP service packages will exceed the minimal call waiting and voice mail bundles of traditional phone services. One example, CallVantage from AT&T may cost a bit more than some but it includes a useful call forwarding capability that will try to find you by ringing up to five different phone numbers when you aren't home.

You'll have to decide after shopping around whether you feel comfortable going with one of the smaller startups or if you should stick with one of the big players. With the big players you'll usually pay $5 or $10 more per month more for the "peace of mind" of a well-known brand name like AT&T or Vonage which are currently the two largest VoIP providers in the market.

Verizon VoiceWing is fairly new to this ever increasing niche but with its merger with MCI it operates under one of the biggest brands in the telephony world. Once again, it's clearly up to you and your comfort level but if a service has fewer than 100,000 subscribers, you may want to look closely before jumping in.

Cold Turkey Like all new technology VoIP continues to improve and the result is better call quality and service levels but switching cold turkey may not be the best idea. With many providers offering 30-day money back guarantees (always read the terms carefully) you can test the waters and ease into the transition. Initially, you may want to consider switching to VoIP on a second line and then, if you're happy, make the full transition.

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