As we start to consider the future of landline phones, plans are already in place to regulate a transition from analogue telephone systems to VoIP digital products. Here we take a look at what the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phenomenon is, the UK VoIP providers, and what the future holds for IP communications.
- VoIP Phone and Virtual Landlines
- Skype Online
- VoIP Providers
- Mobile VoIP
- The Future of VoIP: FTTP & Openreach
VoIP Phone and Virtual Landline
VoIP is poised to sound the death knell of the analogue landline and usher in the new age of virtual landline phones. But what is VoIP? The concept of VoIP is far simpler than the name suggests to the uninitiated. Put simply, It allows users to make calls using an internet connection. This, of course, requires a compatible device - a smartphone, laptop handset or home phone with an adapter - that can be used as a VoIP Phone.
VoIP services and free VoIP apps, such as Skype, Whatsapp and Facetime video calls, have long been in use with widespread popularity. Now with the news that Openreach has announced that VoIP phones are the future, VoIP as a virtual landline is on the cusp of hitting the popular conscience.
Even so, there’s also a whole host of independent VoIP providers UK-wide that have gone, somewhat, under the general public’s radar. We’ll take a look at these providers in more detail further down.
How VoIP Works
Voice over Internet Protocol, better known by the VoIP acronym, uses the internet to transmit voice communication between two or more devices. It’s also referred to as IP telephony, internet telephony or Voice over IP.
No doubt, we’ve all encountered the term IP address. Well, every device has a unique address or identifier to, and from, which data is sent over the internet through a networking method known as the Internet Protocol (IP). You can think of an IP address as a phone number, unique to every computer.
In brief, the Internet Protocol method takes packets of data - which are constituent parts of a data file broken down by computers, devices and applications - and directs them to their intended destination. The destination is always located by a unique IP address.
Generally, these data packets bounce from router to router in an ISP (Internet Service Provider) data network, until a network router recognises the IP address and ushers the data packets to their final destination.
Voice over Internet Protocol does what it says on the tin. VoIP makes use of the Internet Protocol method to send voice transmissions as digital data packets, which are created with the help of a VoIP telephone at the moment of voice input.
What you end up with is an internet phone service communication system, otherwise known as a VoIP phone system. The device you use to conduct a VoIP call effectively acts as a digital phone.
What Are The Advantages Of VoIP?
In the current climate, VoIP brings with it certain economic advantages when it comes to your phone bill and standard landline tariffs. Calls made through VoIP systems are often much cheaper than calls made through traditional telephone lines. This holds even more so for international calls and long distance calling.
One of the advantages touted by Ofcom is that we’ll get much clearer phone connections by switching to VoIP. Admittedly, Ofcom states this within the context of the Openreach and Virgin Media VoIP shifts.
In the current era of VoIP phone service, a clearer connection really depends on the type and quality of the connection that users have. An unlimited FTTP (fibre to the premises) connection would allow for higher quality VoIP calls; however, with a slow and limited broadband connection, users are not guaranteed to receive this particular advantage.
Note on emergency servicesIt’s important to highlight that there is a drawback to using VoIP services: Users may experience restrictions when contacting emergency services. Be aware that if your broadband internet or mobile data connection fails, or if there is a power outage, calls on any virtual phone line will be severely limited. For emergency services, it’s best to use analogue phones or mobile phones.
- Working internet Connection: VoIP only functions over a working internet connection, this could be a fixed broadband connection or a mobile data package.
- A VoIP service, app, or software: There are various popular apps and VoIP software available from independent VoIP providers (we’ll take a look at these later on).
- A compatible device: Smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, IP phones, and normal land-line phones with a VoIP adapter - known as an analog telephone adapter (ATA) - work just fine.
The VoIP provider Skype, in particular, has been a pioneer, having provided Skype online VoIP phone services and video call functions since 2003. It is, perhaps, one of the most recognised video and voice communication tools in the UK thanks to its free video conferencing and international calling capabilities.
Users can pay as little as £2.42 for unlimited calls to fixed landline phone systems in the UK. They can also get a Skype number, resembling a local number, that can be used across multiple devices to make and receive calls.
Skype did produce its own call routing Skype VoIP Phone that ceased production a few years ago. If you want to use Skype through your landline phone, you can get an ATA (phone adapter) with Skype compatibility online.
Given the limitations with VoIP emergency calling, it’s best to use Skype strong alongside your landline telephone service and mobile phone as back up. Whilst it may be cheaper to make calls through Skype, it’s safer to use more traditional methods to contact emergency services, for now at least.
For those that don’t know their landline number, we’ve prepared a quick guide for finding your landline number in 2019.
VoIP Providers: Residential Use
As mentioned before, VoIP services and VoIP phone systems have largely been marketed as VoIP solutions for businesses. bOnline, Skype for Business and BT all offer VoIP routing and conferencing on business VoIP service calling plans. Likewise, phone companies have marketed the IP phone as a business phone, or office desk phone, with a unified communications interface.
There are, in contrast, independent VoIP service providers in the UK that offer residential VoIP systems, VoIP gateways with caller ID, voicemail to email, voice networking, conferencing services, and VoIP phones. Below is a list of independent providers that provide a residential/personal service.
As with Skype, any VoIP system can be a great alternative when used to call land lines and mobiles. However, their limitations mark them as potentially risky in emergency cases. Again, it would be best to use VoIP with traditional telephone services and mobile phones as back ups.
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Vonage offers two VoIP unlimited landline call plans. Both include a £5 charge for a Vonage Box landline adapter, as well as a free mobile app, and the option to keep your existing UK phone number. You also have the option to add unlimited mobile calls for £2.75 a month, and unlimited calls to more than 60 countries for £4.50 a month on both plans.
The setup is pretty easy. You need to create a Vonage account, setup your Vonage Box, connect it to your broadband, and connect your home phone to one of the box’s ports.
(10p/min for mobile)
£10 activation charge
(5p/min for mobile)
Unlimited calls to 5 countries
No activation charge
Sipgate’s plans cover all calls to included landline and mobile destinations. You get a free local number, a free mobile app, and there’s no minimum contract for your deal, meaning that you can cancel whenever you want.
Setting up your Sipgate VoIP service is super simple. You need a Sipgate basic account, a broadband connection and a VoIP phone or adapter. Unlike Vonage, Sipgate does not include an adapter with its plan.
The provider also offers a call forwarding feature to any UK landline or mobile. Setting up the service is free, but forwarding calls is charged at tariff rates.
Voiptalk - owned by business VoIP provider Telappliant - offers cheaper plans with limited minutes - perfect if you don’t plan to constantly use of your VoIP landline.
With all plans you get a free UK number and a voicemail to email service. Voiptalk for residential use works over a free VoIP software. VoIP phones and adapters are sold separately.
UK & international landlines
Mobile VoIP systems, apps, and services use the same networking and delivery process as VoIP over a fixed broadband connection. VoIP services like Skype, Vonage, and Voipfone come with apps that can be used on any smartphone with the same tariffs and call plans that users register on.
Certain VoIP systems are targeted solely for use on smartphones, for example Virtual Landline, an independent provider, specialises in directing calls that you receive on your landline telephone system to your smartphone. It’s marketed as a VoIP solution that provides a business phone service and a personal-use app.
Whatsapp calls and Facetime allow users to make free calls over their mobile data packages - or wifi connections. The drawback with these services is that they’re limited to their user base. Whatsapp users can only contact other whatsapp users; iPhone users can only use Facetime with other iPhone users, and so on.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using Mobile VoIP systems.
The Future of VoIP: FTTP and Openreach
An impending VoIP shift is compatible with a recent Openreach consultation setting out a strategy for the nationwide roll out of fibre to the premises (FTTP), which was completed amid government pressure to install a full fibre network by 2033.
Whilst an unlimited broadband connection is more than capable of supporting VoIP, a high speed internet connection - like a direct fibre broadband connection - is the best mode of ensuring that calls from your VoIP systems are seamless and of a higher quality than analogue phone calls.
The transition to VoIP adds to the pressure on BT, Openreach, and other ISPs to ensure the completion of full-fibre connections to homes. For consumers, this would result in better connections and incredibly fast broadband speeds.
Make sure you take a look at our fibre optic broadband vs cable guide, in which you’ll find a neat explanation about FTTP.