Voice over Internet Protocol has been around since the mid-1990s, when software company Vocaltec introduced what is believed to be the first internet phone software.
While the first incarnation of internet telephony was revolutionary, it got a bad rap for poor sound quality and call reliability. The culprit behind the bad calls wasn't necessarily the software, but rather the modem-based internet connections most of the world was using before the advent of broadband.
As broadband has expanded over the past decade, more and more individuals and businesses are taking a second look at what VoIP has to offer. According to the FCC, VoIP use among consumers and businesses jumped 21 percent between 2009 and 2010.
Some of the early drawbacks to VoIP still exist -- including limitations to 911 service and lack of phone service when power or internet is down -- but for more and more people, the savings VoIP offers can't be beat.
These days, the quality of VoIP has skyrocketed, making the early days of the service nothing but a bad memory.
Here's why you should take a second look at VoIP for your home or small business:
Increasingly, VoIP providers are relying on private IP networks rather than the public internet, which means additional bandwidth is available for voice traffic. In addition, according to an article on tmcnet.com, providers are now prioritizing voice traffic over data traffic -- which has dramatically improved call quality -- especially for business customers.
With the switch to private IP networks, gone are all of the sound problems -- garbled calls, echo, voice delays and jitter -- that came with early incarnations of VoIP. And providers are continuously looking for ways to improve voice quality.
Taking advantage of the fact that voice data can now be tracked from origin to destination, VoIP providers are now better able to diagnose problems as they arise, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For some companies in need of a new phone system, the task of transitioning from a traditional SIP-based system is daunting. But major improvements have been made to SIP trunking, which allows businesses to easily and efficiently take advantage of VoIP solutions without having to upgrade to IP-based phones.
As the number of VoIP provider has grown, so has the number of features available to users. Beyond making cheap local and long-distance calls, users can now take advantage of an array of business-enhancing add-ons including video conferencing, find me/follow me and simultaneous ring, in addition to the traditional staples like voicemail, caller ID and call waiting.
VoIP providers are now beginning to package these features into an efficient user experience. More and more providers are finding ways to integrate real-time communication services -- think instant messaging, video conferencing and calling -- with non-real-time communication like voicemail, fax and e-mail, according to TMCNet.com. This allows for all types of communication to be managed from one spot: your computer desktop.
Managing the traditional PBX phone systems that companies have relied on for years can be complicated, costly and, depending on the size of the business, require an in-house telecomm staff. But VoIP has made it easier for companies to manage expanding, changing and monitoring their phone systems on their own. PBX -- a kind of VoIP/PBX hybrid -- now can both manage and route calls, which eliminates the need for a costly support staff.
Back when VoIP first came to be, cell phones were probably the size of phone books and functioned solely to make phone calls. These days, though, they're essentially portable computers allowing users to do everything from video chat to watch movies. Using mobile VoIP, users can now route phone calls through their device's internet connection -- making long-distance and international calls much cheaper than using a carrier's minutes. Most VoIP service providers allow any call to be routed to a user's cell phone, making missed calls when leaving the home or office a thing of the past.
Learn more about the advantages of a VoIP phone system at business.com.