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So you've heard the news: a new technology is around that lets you make phone calls, even long-distance phone calls, for free! You'd like to try it, but it sounds rather complicated. What is this VoIP, anyway? Here's a quick question-and-answer guide to VoIP and how you can make free online calls without reading tons of technical jargon.

What is VoIP?
VoIP means Voice over Internet Protocol. In plain English, it means that in exactly the same way you use the Internet to send letters through email, you can now send your voice through VoIP, to make free phone calls to anywhere in the world.

How does it work?
1. You talk through your computer microphone or your VoIP phone.
2. Your voice is turned into computer data.
3. It is sent through the Internet (like email) to your VoIP service provider.
4. They send it to the phone number you are calling so your friend can receive your call.
5. When your friend talks on his phone, his voice reaches you the same way, but in reverse: from his phone, to your service provider, to your Internet, to your phone or computer.

How is the sound quality different from a regular phone?
With good Internet connection, your friend won't know the difference. If your connection is slow, you will sound like you are calling from a cellphone with bad signal. Most companies will not install VoIP for dial-up connections.

What is a VoIP service provider?
A VoIP service provider is like a phone company that connects your VoIP phone to your friend's landline.

What is a VoIP phone?
It looks like a regular phone, but it has a software and modem installed so you can connect to the Internet and make VoIP calls without having to turn on your computer. You dial it like a regular phone, and if somebody calls your VoIP number, it rings like a regular phone.

Are the phone calls really free?
Yes, if you download and install on your computer a VoIP software, like Skype. This will let you make free calls to anyone in the world who has the same software loaded in his or her computer.

You can also use Skype or other VoIP service providers to call a local or long-distance landline number or mobile phone. There will be a small charge, but it is still much cheaper than if you use a regular phone to make your call. In addition, pay features on regular phones-like call waiting, call forwarding, call barring, conference calls, caller ID and voice mail-are usually free on VoIP.

Rates and features vary with different service providers so be sure to ask your company what they offer.

Can I call my friends even if they don't have VoIP?
Yes.

And can my friends call me?
Yes. Your friends can call your VoIP number in the same way they call a regular landline. You won't be charged for incoming calls. Your friends will be charged for their call in the same way that they will be charged for calling a regular landline.

Can I keep my old phone number?
Yes, depending on your VoIP service provider. Sometimes, you can even bring your VoIP phone-along with your phone number – to anywhere that has a high-speed Internet connection.

Some providers also allow you to get a phone number with a different area code. You could be in California but have a New York area code so that your business clients in New York can call you without long-distance charges. (However, if your next-door neighbor calls you, it will be long-distance for her.)

Can I get rid of my regular phone line?
Usually, yes. Again, it depends on your VoIP service provider.

An important note, though: 911 calls made through VoIP are unreliable. Also, they will not be able to track your location automatically, as when you are using a regular phone. If you get rid of your phone line, consider using your cellphone instead of your VoIP to call 911.

So, what do I need to use VoIP?

•A high-speed Internet connection. This means DSL or cable, NOT dial-up.
•A regular phone with VoIP adaptor OR a VoIP phone OR a computer with a microphone and earpiece.
•A VoIP service provider.

Can I use VoIP without an Internet connection?
No.

Can I use my computer while talking on the VoIP phone?
Absolutely, although using the Internet for other purposes while using VoIP may affect the quality of your call.

Can I use VoIP without a computer?
Yes, if you have a VoIP phone and your Internet is active.

Can I use VoIP without a VoIP phone line?
Yes, if you have a computer with a VoIP program, a microphone and earpiece.

Will it work in a power outage?
Unfortunately, no.

How do I know if VoIP is for me?
VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who are always on the Internet, and VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who have a high-speed connection.

VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who often make calls to long-distance, international, or mobile numbers.

VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who move around the country, and VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who would like to take their landline number with them wherever they go.

VoIP is a great money-saving option for people who need to have an area code in another locality.

How do I find a VoIP service provider?
For VoIP calls using your computer, you can simply download a VoIP program like Skype or Vonage from the Internet.

To find a service provider for VoIP phones, simply type "VoIP" and the name of your country in the search bar of your favorite Internet search engine.
Isabel Baldry is a freelance writer who writes passionately about a number of subjects. Learn more about free online calls with VoIP here.

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