The Different Ways of Making a VoIP Call

Asian woman on couch with laptop chatting over VoIP
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There are three ways to make a VoIP call, each with a different set of requirements and implications. Learn how these methods differ and what you need to place a VoIP call.

Computer to Computer (or Smartphone to Smartphone) 

The word computer here includes all devices that use digital data and run an operating system, including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones. This mode is the most common, as it is easy and free. You need to have a computer connected to the Internet, with the necessary hardware to talk and listen—either a headset or speakers and a microphone. You can install voice communication software like Skype and you'll be ready to go.

You can also place calls through a Local Area Network (LAN). The network needs to be IP-enabled, i.e. the Internet Protocol (IP) should be running and controlling packet transfer on your network. This way, you can communicate with another person on the same network.

Whether you are communicating over the internet or a LAN, you need adequate bandwidth. If you have around 50 kbps, it will work, but you won’t have the best quality. For good quality voice, get at least 100 kbps for a conversation.

Phone to Phone

Phone here means a traditional analog telephone. It also includes simple cell phones. This mode is very handy but is not as simple and cheap to set up as the other two. It implies using a phone set on each user end. You can use VoIP and take advantage of its low cost by using a phone set. There are two ways in which you can use phones to make VoIP calls:

IP Phones

An IP Phone looks just like a normal phone. The difference is that, instead of working on the normal PSTN network, it connects to a gateway or router to establish communications. The IP phone, therefore, does not connect to the RJ-11 socket. Instead, it uses the RJ-45 plug, which is the one we use for wired LANs. If you want to have an idea of what an RJ-11 plug is, have a look at your normal phone or your dial-up modem. It's the plug that connects the wire to the phone or modem. The RJ-45 plug is similar but bigger.

You can, of course, use wireless tech like Wi-Fi to connect to a network. In this case, you can use either a USB or RJ-45 connection.

ATA

ATA is short for Analog Telephone Adapter. It's a device that allows you to connect a standard PSTN phone to your computer or directly to the internet. The ATA converts voice from your normal phone and converts it to digital data ready to be sent over a network or the internet.

If you register for VoIP service, it is common to have an ATA bundled along in the service package, which you can return once you terminate the package. For example, you get an ATA in a package with Vonage and AT&T’s CallVantage. You only have to plug the ATA into your computer or phone line, install the necessary software, and you'll be ready to use your phone for VoIP.

Phone to Computer and Vice-Versa

Now that you understand how you can use your computer, normal phones, and IP phones to make VoIP calls, it's easy to figure out that you can call a person using a PSTN phone from your computer. You can also use your PSTN phone to call someone on their computer.

Finally, you can have a mixture of VoIP users, using phones and computers to communicate over the same network. The hardware and software are more involved in this case.

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