VoIP is an increasingly popular method of reducing the cost of your phone bill while increasing the possibilities available to you through your phone. VoIP lets you make calls through your computer to international destinations at a fraction of the calling cost that you’re used to paying. Moreover, it allows you to combine voice, data and images in order to streamline calls, conduct conferencing calling, track data and otherwise harness the power of the Internet as it relates to your calls.
In recent months, there’s been a surge in availability of mobile VoIP services (there are a bunch of free ones that you can try; learn more here). As this has happened, you may have started to take an interest in VoIP yourself. But if you’ve started to read about it, you may have felt overwhelmed. VoIP is a complicated new technology that requires the user to learn a whole new language (the language of VoIP) in order to make the best decisions about the service.
The key to learning this language is to start boning up on the definitions of the most common VoIP terms. Following you’ll find a VoIP glossary to help you out. You may also want to check out our guide to VoIP for an overview of what VoIP is and how to start using it.
883: This simple number is an important one to know because it means big things for the development of VoIP. VoIP was recently designated a “country code” of 883, the same kind of code that designates that a phone number belongs to someone in Japan or someone in Germany. This is a really new thing for VoIP but the implications are huge because it could mean that all VoIP users would be able to make free calls to each other no matter what VoIP service they’re using. You want to make sure that your VoIP provider knows this number when you’re talking to him about services.
Adjustable bandwidth saver. This is a VoIP feature that lets you change how much bandwidth you are using in order to save the battery on your mobile VoIP.
Audio menu: This is a menu that the caller is given when the call is first received. Most personal VoIP users will not have this service but some freelancers and small business owners may find it useful. This may also be known as IVR (see below). Some services calls this an “auto-attendant”.
Audio teleconferencing: This is the most common form of voice conferencing available for VoIP services. You’ll want to also ask for a conference server which lets you manage these conferences yourself.
Auto-attendant. See “audio menu” above.
Bandwidth: This term that you’re probably already familiar with refers to the amount of data that can be transmitted in a given amount of time. You’ll want to make sure that you know what your bandwidth is so that you can determine if your computer can handle the VoIP system you desire. Most people these days have broadband connections that are just fine for basic VoIP services. You can adjust this (see “adjustable bandwidth saver” above).
Call log. This VoIP feature will track all of your calls for you through the Internet in order to organize your online calling.
Call quality. Just like it sounds, this term refers to the quality of the call that you’re making in terms of background noise, how easy it is to hear the other party, etc. In the past, VoIP was berated for having low call quality but most VoIP systems today do not have this problem.
Click-to-call Widgets: These are tools that you can place on your website, blog or social networking profiles in order to let people call you. They click a button and the call is made to your phone without revealing your phone number to the caller.
Directory services. You can choose whether or not you want to have your VoIP number included in various phone directories.
Fax server: This allows you to fax through your computer using your VoIP system. If you need a separate line for this, you’ll need to request a “dedicated fax line”.
Forwarding. A VoIP feature which forwards your calls from your VoIP number to other numbers such as your cell phone. This may also be called “enhanced call forwarding” or “follow me”.
Green VoIP. This refers to efforts by VoIP providers and VoIP users to engage in eco-friendly actions. This is a new and developing area of VoIP.
H.323 Standard. This is the legal standard by which VoIP must operate. The only time that you’ll need to know this is if you’re having trouble using real time voice conferencing on your VoIP system and want to know what the standards are. It is set forth by the International Telecommunications Union (see below). It is one of two protocols; the other is SIP (see below).
Hosted VoIP: This means that your VoIP service is hosted at the location of your VoIP provider. All of the hardware and technical stuff is dealt with on their end. This is the most common type of VoIP service. It’s synonymous with “Virtual PBX” and is the opposite of premise-based VoIP.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR): This is essentially the same thing as an audio menu (see above). It provides information that the user can respond to or select from using voice commands or the buttons on their phone.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU). This is the body that sets the standards for international VoIP (such as the H.323 standard listed above). You should stay on top of their latest news if you want to know what changes are happening with VoIP.
Jitter. Sometimes when voice or data is being transmitted through VoIP, there’s a momentary call quality problem; that’s jitter. This is increasingly less common as VoIP technology has improved.
Latency. VoIP services measure the amount of time that it takes between when you ask the system to do something and when the system does it. In most cases, the delay is so short that the user won’t even notice it. However, it’s a way for VoIP companies to measure their effectiveness and they may advertise this to you as a benefit of their service over the competition.
Mobile VoIP. VoIP calls that are conducted through your mobile phone. This is an increasingly popular service that is usually used in conjunction with a PC-based VoIP system.
Outlook integration. The VoIP service is integrated with your Outlook address book in order to keep contact information in one place.
Packet Loss: Packets are the individual components of data that are stored and transmitted (see Packet Switching below). On rare occasions, packet loss will occur in which a portion of the data sent does not arrive at the location intended to receive it. In other words, something goes wrong between the sender and receiver during the call.
Packet Switching: You’ll hear this mentioned again and again in VoIP. It refers to the way that your information will be packaged and then sent over the Internet. Basically, the pieces are broken up, transmitted separately and put back together on the other end of the transmission. Certain VoIP technologies such as audio conferencing will rely on packet switching.
Peer-to-peer calling. This generally refers to the ability to call other people using the same VoIP service at either no cost or a very low cost. For example, everyone in the Damaka VoIP network can call one another using peer-to-peer calling.
Premise-Based VoIP: This means that you host the whole VoIP system at your location. It is typically only used by large businesses that want to operate their own equipment. It is the opposite of “hosted VoIP” or “virtual PBX”.
Processor Drain: Sometimes VoIP call quality (see above) will decline when the user opens up too many different windows or applications on his or her computer. This effect is called processor drain. You may want to ask your service provider about this before committing to a VoIP plan.
Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). This is the network of phones out in the real world that aren’t on the VoIP network. You’ll need to know this term because some VoIP services allow you free VoIP-to-VoIP (or peer-to-peer) calling but will charge you for VoIP-to-PSTN calling. In other words, there may be a fee if you use a VoIP system to call a landline that’s connected to the PSTN system.
Secure Real Time Transport Protocol (SRTP). This refers to the protocol that is in place to try to keep VoIP secure from hackers and other online threats.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP): This is a protocol for VoIP. You don’t really need to understand the details of it (it has to do with setting a standard for how VoIP calls will take place through peer-to-peer connections) but get familiar with hearing the term. It is one of two protocols (the other is H.323; see above).
Skype: Skype is one of the first major computer calling systems and is still an important part of the business toay. People sometimes use the term VoIP and Skype interchangeably. However, VoIP is the whole industry of voice calling and Skype is just one provider. It uses a slightly different system from many of the other VoIP providers on the market today so you’ll want to review those differences if you’re interested in Skype as a VoIP service.
Social networking. This refers to your activities on all of the online networking sites that you use such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace. It’s important to VoIP because it’s increasingly common to use VoIP click-to-call widgets (see above) on social networking sites. We’re also seeing an increase in mobile social networking which may be merged with VoIP calling in the future.
Softphone client: This refers to software that is downloaded to your computer to allow VoIP to work. You may find that some VoIP services are solely online and don’t require such downloads.
SPIT. This is the VoIP equivalent of spam. Usually it comes in the form of having telemarketers call your VoIP number but there are other types of voice spam as well. This is not a huge problem for VoIP but may be an issue for some users.
Toll-Free VoIP. Just like with regular phones, you can opt to have a toll-free VoIP number where callers can reach you without paying anything for the call.
Virtual PBX: See Hosted VoIP.
VoIM. There’s a growing interest in Voice over Instant Messaging which, as the name suggests, uses chat clients such as Yahoo! Messenger as a way to conduct voice calls.
VoIP. Perhaps you’re wondering exactly how VoIP is defined anyway. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a method of conducting phone calls through your computer. The technology is fairly complicated (breaking down the voice data into packets which are transmitted online) but it ultimately refers to sending information from your computer to another computer while using phones for the voice conversation.
VoIP service provider. As you may have guessed, this refers to the company that is providing your VoIP service. The reason it confuses some people is because they assume that it’s the same as their Internet Service Provider (ISP) which it usually is not. For example, you may get Internet service through Comcast but use Jajah for VoIP; Jajah is your VoIP service provider and Comcast is your ISP.