Early providers of voice-over-IP services used business models and offered technical solutions that mirrored the architecture of the legacy telephone network. Second-generation providers, such as Skype, built closed networks for private user bases, offering the benefit of free calls and convenience while potentially charging for access to other communication networks, such as the PSTN. This limited the freedom of users to mix-and-match third-party hardware and software. Third-generation providers, such as Google Talk, adopted the concept of federated VoIP. These solutions typically allow dynamic interconnection between users in any two domains of the Internet, when a user wishes to place a call.
For larger systems, and for systems where security is critical, the old internet connection is no longer adequate. The internet doesn't do quality of service (QoS), and bandwidth can be unpredictable. Network congestion can ruin a business phone call, and activities such as DNS hijacking can put your business at risk. While we all love the internet, it's not necessarily the safe place for your business voice communications. If you fall into this category, remember that while the internet runs using the IP protocol and VoIP runs over the IP protocol, that doesn't mean that VoIP must run over the internet. You can get the same software benefits of VoIP by running your voice network over dedicated lines. Sure, it will cost more, but it will also ensure crystal clear voice quality as well as the ability to implement much-improved data security.
We recognize that not all our readers’ businesses are based in the US. So we took another pass at our content to provide more information on each provider’s international offerings. And because 8x8’s international rates on calls made from the US are so good, we bumped it up to our number five spot. Finally, we added info about Ooma’s new plan (Ooma Office Pro) to the offerings mentioned below.
While there are still a few other legacy protocols around, and a few non-SIP standards, such as H.232, SIP is what's used for the vast majority of modern VoIP phone systems. The most common use I've seen for H.232 has been in dedicated video conferencing systems. SIP, meanwhile, handles phone service, video conferencing, and several other tasks just fine, which is why its use is so widespread. Where it has trouble is with data security, but more on that in a bit.
SIP is built to work on a peer-to-peer (meaning endpoint to endpoint) basis. Those two points are called the "user-agent client" and the "user-agent server." Remember that those points can be swapped, so that in SIP, the endpoint making the call is the user-agent client initiating the traffic and endpoint receiving the call is the user-agent server receiving the call.
The majority of plans are loaded with a great selection of features that can come in handy when you are making or receiving calls. Many providers offer over 30 features included in the low monthly fees. These include basic call management features such as call waiting, call forwarding, call blocking, caller ID name, do not disturb, and voicemail. More advanced features such as the voicemail to email feature let's you access your messages at anytime, even when you are away from your home, simply by checking your email inbox. Distinctive ringing, additional virtual numbers, and Smartphone Calling App's are other examples of more advanced features that can be useful.