What is VoIP?
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology that allows you to make telephone calls over the Internet to any telephone in the world regardless of what equipment or network the person you are calling uses.
Because it uses computer and Internet based digital technologies it can have many features and services that were previously impossible or very expensive using traditional telephone technology.
Why should I use VoIP?
One of the great strengths of VoIP is that it can do so much more than ordinary telephone networks. VoIP services can be as simple as making an ordinary telephone call or as sophisticated as using a large business switchboard in several countries.
VoIP can also be cheaper than ordinary telephony and is often free. For businesses it can provide enormous flexibility and lower costs dramatically.
How does it work?
Your voice is converted into digital information which can be sent like any other data over the Internet. The technology used is called Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP. Sometimes it is referred to as Voice over Networks or (VoN) and sometimes Internet Telephony.
Are VoIP calls free?
Normally, if a call goes from your VoIP telephone to another VoIP telephone on the same Service Provider’s network, it will be free – no matter where the two telephones are in the world. Calls that are sent out to mobile phones or ordinary landlines will normally be chargeable but are still usually less costly that ordinary telephony.
How do I make a VoIP call?
You dial the number as you would normally do.
What equipment do I need?
You need a fast Internet connection and a telephone of some sort. The telephones can either be a softphone that is installed on your PC or laptop, a telephone adapter (ATA) – which is a small box that plugs into your broadband connection and into which you plug an ordinary telephone – or a dedicated VoIP telephone.
Do I need to keep my computer switched on to use VoIP?
Only if you use a softphone (or USB telephone) on the computer to make and receive calls. Otherwise your hardware telephone is always on, just like your ordinary landline and works independently of your computer.
Who can I call with VoIP?
You can normally call anyone with an ordinary landline or mobile phone anywhere in the world. If the person you are calling is a VoIP user on the same network, the call is usually free – no matter where you both are in the world.
Who can call me?
If your service provider has given you a telephone number (almost all do), anyone can call you from any telephone.
Can I use my existing number with VoIP?
Most VoIP service providers will issue you with a new telephone number (or you may choose one). However, you can also often port – ie transfer – your existing number onto the new VoIP system. You need to contact your service provider to find out whether they offer this service and whether it is possible in your particular circumstances.
Can I take my VoIP telephone or adapter with me when I travel?
If you have a VoIP telephone adapter, telephone or use a softphone on your laptop, you will be able to use it wherever you travel, as long as you have a high speed Internet connection.
Your number will follow you wherever you go too, so you don’t need to tell everyone you’ve gone away and they don’t need to know a new number or pay an international call charge to reach you.
How do I know if I have a VoIP phone call?
Your telephone will ring like any other call.
How many simultaneous calls can I make/receive?
VoIP allows you to make several calls over your Internet connection simultaneously without needing to buy additional telephone lines. The number of calls possible depends on the amount of bandwidth you have and your Service Provider‘s policies.
What is Residential VoIP?
The basic premise is that instead of using the landline telephone, people can use their broadband connection to make and receive all home calls. This can either be done by using a software application via your laptop or by using a VoIP telephone adaptor that will act as a bridge between your traditional telephone handset and the Internet.
What are the benefits to consider using a VoIP/Internet phone service at home?
What features can Residential VoIP give me?
A number of extra features make VoIP an extremely good proposition for the general public. These include:
Features to look for?
What are the advantages of setting up a VoIP system for my business?
The perceived wisdom on this is that using VoIP leads to lower costs. Whilst this is undoubtedly true with typically lower call charges, free calls between company sites and lower operational costs there is a huge productivity element that needs also to be taken into consideration.
Because VoIP is based on Internet Protocol many aspects of how people use the Internet flow over to telephony:
This leads to businesses being able to communicate more efficiently. Never calling an internal extension and getting a busy tone or voicemail for example saves a lot of time and money. Being able to work from home or another office whilst keeping all the communications tools that you normally have whilst in your regular office is another.
How expensive is it to migrate my traditional systems to a VoIP network?
If you have an old phone system with absolutely no VoIP functionality it is still quite easy to “convert” this into a VoIP system by using Media Gateways. A Media Gateway is a box that plugs into the back of your phone system and converts phone calls into VoIP calls.
In this way you can take advantage of lower call costs but also potentially greatly reduce your line rental charges. VoIP lines, often known as SIP trunks, are much cheaper than traditional analogue or ISDN phone lines. Media Gateways start from only a few hundred pounds and can result in a very quick payback depending on the set up of your business.
Using a Media Gateway also allows you to hook up to other company locations. As many sites as you like can be added in. If they all have non-VoIP telephone systems then a low cost Media Gateway at each site will allow them all to be connected together.
What extra services are available with VoIP?
The first thing to say here is that all the traditional telephony features used by businesses are available on VoIP from one supplier or another. Following on from this a range of features difficult or not possible to implement on a traditional telephone system are also available.
For example, Presence and Instant Messaging adds a terrific layer of functionality to a simple phone call. See when someone is on the phone, even if they are hundreds of miles away. This prevents unsuccessful calls and saves time and effort.
Click to call means you can dial the person that has just sent you an email without having to look up their number.
Call forwarding and find me follow me means that you can receive calls wherever you are and not have to miss an important call. Voicemail to email Unified Communications means you can pick up a voicemail whilst on the move using your mobile device.
The array of services available is vast but an easy way to summarise this would be to say you get services traditionally only available to large companies with deep pockets at very affordable prices.
Is video conferencing available?
Yes many VoIP services are now enabled with video conferencing. In fact Video Conferencing is no longer the domain of large businesses wanting to splash out on expensive equipment and, if available with a particular service, usually comes free with the subscription.
What hardware is required?
There are usually many options for hardware for use with a VoIP service. Old fashioned phone systems all used proprietary technology that meant you had to buy your telephone handsets from the same company that manufactured the system. This typically kept prices high and meant less choice of hardware.
Nowadays most VoIP services are now based on open standards and can use hardware manufactured by a wide range of suppliers. The analogy is with the GSM mobile network – think of how many different types of mobile phones you can buy with a huge range of features and price points. The same is now true for VoIP.
When using VoIP you can also get away without having to buy any hardware by using “soft” phones running on your PC. In this way you can take your office phone with you wherever you travel.
How do USB VoIP Phones work?
As the name suggests a USB phone is a device that looks like a small phone that plugs into the USB socket of your PC to be used in conjunction with a soft phone. If you want to use such a device it is worth making sure that your VoIP provider’s softphone will work with the specific handset.
What is Mobile VoIP?
Mobile VoIP is the ability to make and receive calls via a mobile phone’s Internet connection. The service is provided by a 3rd party Mobile VoIP service who uses either an available wireless network or a mobile phone operators data network to transit the calls.
What is Fixed Mobile Convergence?
Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) technology enables a smooth transfer between mobile operators, PSTN and fixed wireless networks. FMC enables users to move between networks much more easily as the user doesn’t have to deal with the problem of ending, re-starting or losing a call or data connection. For example, via this technology a user could use a mobile phone to call on their way to work and once they arrive at the office they could be smoothly transferred to its wireless network, whilst still on the same call.
Are there similar cost savings with Mobile VoIP?
Similar to standard VoIP, Mobile VoIP can offer significantly cheaper alternatives to making and receiving calls. Using this method doesn’t consume any minutes should an individual be on a contract with their mobile provider and with Mobile VoIP, overseas calls are normally charged at a much lower rate than you would expect to pay otherwise. Free calls are normally permitted between users of their service and calls within the country and often also within the country the Mobile VoIP provider is based.
How much does a Mobile VoIP service cost?
Most commonly Mobile VoIP providers charge users on a per minute basis, although monthly packages are now available. The cost though differs according to the mobile VoIP provider being used, the kind of call being made and which country the call is being made to. However there is usually no cost to begin using the service.
Where can I use Mobile VoIP services?
To utilise the service, a WiFi or 3G data connection is required and the user should have a mobile phone that has these capabilities.
Do all mobile phones support Mobile VoIP services?
Not all mobile phones have the capability to support Mobile VoIP services, however the majority of phones with access to WiFi or 3G networks will be able to. Nevertheless individuals should check whether their phone is compatible with the mobile VoIP service provider before choosing their service.
Do I have to install anything in order to use a Mobile VoIP service?
It varies according to the Mobile VoIP service provider being used, and individuals should check with them first. There are Mobile VoIP services that can be used through the phone’s web browser and therefore do not entail downloading and installing an application. The vast majority of Mobile VoIP offerings do require you to download the relevant software.
What is the call quality like?
Call quality should be the same or even better than a regular call, as long as there is a good connection. However the problem of dropped/lost calls, latency and jitter is more common because the calls rely on signal strength and the amount of bandwidth available. However this problem will decline over the next few years as bandwidth availability increases at cheaper prices and the technology carries on developing.
Does a VoIP call sound as good as an ordinary call?
VoIP calls often have better quality than ordinary phone calls, if you received a call from someone who was calling from a good quality VoIP service it’s unlikely that you would notice any difference from an ordinary call.
However, VoIP call quality depends upon the telephone used to make the call, the callers broadband connection and the Internet Telephony Service Provider who carries the call.
What are the most common problems that I may encounter using VoIP?
As VoIP requires an Internet connection to your premises, the most common problems are to do with:
Troubleshooting Audio Problems
VoIP Audio problems can be split into two sections:
For new installations, audio problems (choppy speech, one way audio, etc.) are usually caused by, lack of bandwidth, router, firewall, or network settings:
For existing installations where voice quality was good, but has deteriorated:
Troubleshooting Static or Garbled Audio Problems
Static or buzzing on calls is usually due to interference from other electronic devices. Move other electronic devices away from DSL Routers, Switches and phones to see if this reduces static.
Garbled or choppy audio is the result of latency or packet loss on your Internet connection. Your connection may not be fast enough to send and receive voice data, resulting in lost information. This situation is called “Packet Loss”.
Troubleshooting Echo Problems
Echo is due to possible latency on your Internet connection causing delayed playback of your voice. It is not uncommon for echo to be present with traditional phone calling as well, but the latency is so slight the echo probably will go unnoticed.
Possible causes of echo are:
If you are hearing significant echo on a call:
Troubleshooting Incoming Call Problems
Inbound call problems are usually due to your Internet phone not being registered with your ITSP or a problem with your Internet.
Troubleshooting Outgoing Call Problems
Outgoing call problems are usually due to an Internet fault on your premises
What type of Internet connection and bandwidth is required to ensure good voice quality?
To make and receive VoIP calls you need a high speed broadband Internet connection, the speed or bandwidth you require depends upon how many concurrent calls will be made and what codec your Internet telephone will use to digitise speech.
You will need at least 80kbps on both the upload and download for a single two-way conversation using the G711 codec. The data rate for the G711 codec is 64kbps, but added to this will be headers and other information, adding up to an approximate total of 80kbps. Other codecs use higher compression ratios and can be used with lower bandwidth, like G729 and others.
So for 10 concurrent calls using G711 you will need at least 800kbps broadband upload speed.
What are the potential security risks when using VoIP?
VoIP vulnerabilities are typically similar to the ones users face on the Internet, although some attacks unique to IP telephony are now emerging.
Specific vulnerabilities that can be exploited range from:
Criminal (fraud) e.g. Vishing, Caller ID Spoofing
Malicious disruption e.g. DOS attacks
Unsolicited calls e.g. SPAM over Internet Telephony (“SPIT”).
Are there more risks to a VoIP service than a traditional phone service?
All new or emerging technologies offer both opportunities and vulnerabilities, particularly if the scale of their adoption is potentially enormous.
Many of the motivations to attack VoIP users are the same as telephone service attacks: to benefit financially, via toll fraud, identity and information theft, and to gain notoriety, by disrupting service and inconveniencing users. Such attacks are similar to attacks we have seen on cellular and landline phones for years.
Others are all too familiar attacks we see against networked computers. VoIP phones and computers running VoIP software (softphones) are more computer than phone. They have operating and file systems, use Internet protocols, and run data and management as well as voice applications. They are vulnerable to unauthorized access, privilege escalation and “system” misuse. Viruses, worms, and all the “classic” denial of service attacks that exploit network protocols are possible.
What is a Denial-of-Service attack?
A Denial-of-Service attack (DoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or people to prevent an Internet site or Web service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers.
In terms of VoIP telephony, DoS attacks can overwhelm a company’s phone lines, creating long-term busy signals, forcing calls to disconnect.
What is SPIT?
SPIT or SPAM over Internet Telephony is the proliferation of unwanted, automatically-dialled, pre-recorded phone calls using VoIP. VoIP systems, like email and other Internet applications, are susceptible to abuse by malicious parties who initiate unsolicited and unwanted communications. Telemarketers, prank calls and other telephone system abusers are likely to target VoIP systems increasingly.
Up to now there have not been a great many instances of VoIP spam but there is great potential for it to become a major problem. SPIT could be generated in a similar way to email spam with botnets targeting millions of VoIP users from compromised machines.
The real-time nature of voice calls will make dealing with spit much more challenging than email spam. While emails can sit on a server to go through a spam filter, calls need to be filtered/detected in a real-time environment.
What is Vishing?
Vishing is the criminal practice of using social engineering over the telephone system, to gain access to private, personal and financial information from the public for the purpose of financial reward. The term is a combination of “voice” and phishing. Vishing exploits the public’s trust in landline telephone services, which have traditionally terminated in physical locations which are known to the telephone company, and associated with a bill-payer. Vishing is typically used to steal credit card numbers or other information used in identity theft schemes from individuals.
(Social engineering is the act of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information)
What is Caller ID spoofing?
Caller ID spoofing is the practice of causing the telephone network to display a number on the recipient’s caller ID display which is not that of the actual originating station; the term is commonly used to describe situations in which the motivation is considered malicious by the speaker. Just as e-mail spoofing can make it appear that a message came from any e-mail address the sender chooses, caller ID spoofing can make a call appear to have come from any phone number the caller wishes. Because of the high trust people have tended to have in the caller ID system, spoofing can call the system’s value into question.
For example, an attacker could possibly inject a bogus caller ID into an ordinary VoIP call so that the receiver believes the call to be coming from a known and trusted source (a bank, for example). The receiver, fooled by the electronic identification of the caller, may place unwarranted trust in the person at the other end. In such an exchange, the receiver may be tricked into disclosing personal information like account numbers, social security numbers, or secondary authentication factor: a mother’s maiden name, for example. This scheme is essentially the VoIP version of traditional phishing, where a user follows links in an unsolicited email and is tricked into providing personal information on a bogus website. Attackers may use these bits and pieces of personal information to complete partial identity records of victims of identity theft.
Can I access emergency services via a VoIP call?
If you use your VoIP service in the UK to make or receive calls to or from the public switched network (for example, to or from numbers starting with 01, 02 or 03) you can dial 999 or 112 to access emergency services.
Are there any circumstances when I wouldn’t be able to contact emergency services?
Access to emergency services is not available during an electrical power or broadband outage.
Is there any information that I need to supply to my service provider?
Your services provider will ask you for your address in the UK where you intend to use the VoIP service – you will also be given the opportunity to update this information. Your service provider will pass on this information to emergency services so that they know the location where assistance is required.
Can I access emergency services from different locations?
In the UK, yes. When you dial 999 or 112 in the UK, the emergency services operator will always ask you to confirm the address from which you are calling. Access to emergency services will not be available outside the UK unless your service provider tells you that arrangements are in place.
How can I complain about my service provider?
In the first instance you should contact your service provider’s customer services department and explain the problem you are experiencing. You may contact them by phone, via their website, by email or by letter. In most instances your issue can be resolved to your satisfaction.
If your service provider fails or is unable to resolve your complaint, then make a formal complaint to them by advising them that your complaint should be reviewed in accordance with the complaints procedure which is contained within their Complaints Code of Practice. This can normally be found on the provider’s website. If you are unable to find this information, the service provider’s customer service staff should advise you of the process to follow to make a formal complaint.
Comms Council UK members should endeavour to resolve the complaint within 10 working days. The complainant should be informed via email, letter, telephone call or in person.
Can I contact Comms Council UK about a complaint?
If the service provider is a Comms Council UK member, then yes. The complainant must first try to resolve the problem. If a complaint cannot be resolved, then the complainant should contact the Secretariat. The complaint should be set out in an email or a letter, which the Secretariat will forward onto the member.
Once Comms Council UK has been informed, The Comms Council UK member must then respond to the complainant within 5 working days, copying the Secretariat into the response. If the member is unable to respond, they must contact the Secretariat to explain their position.
Should the problem continue, cases can be escalated to an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme, once the Member considers the case to be in deadlock. Deadlock will be a last resort. Deadlock exists when a complaint has not been resolved within 8 weeks from the date of the original complaint from the complainant to the Member.
The complainant should contact the Secretariat again to inform the Secretariat that they remain unsatisfied.
What is an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme?
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes act as an independent middleman between the service provider and the customer. If the ADR scheme finds in your favour, it can order the service provider to fix the problem and, if needed, pay compensation. All providers of services to consumers and very small businesses are required to join an ADR scheme.
If you have gone through the service provider’s formal complaints procedure and contacted Comms Council UK (if your provider is Comms Council UK member) but your concerns still aren’t resolved, the next thing to try is the service providers’ ADR scheme. You do not pay for using an ADR service, the only costs you might have to pay are to cover photocopying and postage costs. ADR schemes are meant to supplement, not replace, a service providers’ own formal complaints procedure, so you can only use its ADR scheme if:
You should find details of your service provider’s ADR scheme in their Code of Practice or from their customer services staff. Ofcom has approved two ADR schemes:
CISAS – www.cisas.org.uk
International Dispute Resolution Centre
70 Fleet Street
Phone no. 020 7520 3827
Ombudsman Services Communication – http://www.ombudsman-services.org/communications.html
PO Box 730
Phone no. 0330 440 1614
Members of Comms Council UK can become members of Ombudsman Services Communication as part of their membership fee. For more information, please contact the Seretariat team.
Can both Residential and Business customers make complaints?
Companies who provide services to businesses with more than 10 employees are not required to join an ADR scheme. Business customers should consult the terms and conditions in their contract with their service provider. This may contain details of an escalation process, through the company and then on to an independent arbitrator, an ADR scheme or through the courts.
Can complaints be made regarding Comms Council UK members not complying with the Comms Council UK Code of Practice?
Yes. All Comms Council UK members must comply with this code. The Comms Council UK Council will review any complaints that they receive regarding non-compliance. Failure to comply can result in expulsion from the trade association. The complaints procedure for non-compliance of the Comms Council UK Code of Practice can be found here: Comms Council UK Complaints Procedure.
Comms Council UK is the UK trade association for IP telephony and advanced communications. Set up in 2004, it use to be known as ITSPA. Given the rise in ITSPs (Internet Telephony Service Providers) it was deemed appropriate to form a representative body for the industry in order to both represent industry views to Government and also to implement methods of best practice for the consumer in a nascent industry. In 2021, ITSPA rebranded to Comms Council UK.
What is the Comms Council UK Code of Practice?
The Comms Council UK Code of Practice is a framework in which Comms Council UK members can demonstrate compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements. It has also been designed to help protect the interests of citizens/consumers by members ensuring that they conform to this standard. All Comms Council UK members must adhere to this code, which is in compliance with all current regulation. Any Comms Council UK member that does not comply with the Code of Practice will face expulsion from the trade association.
What are Comms Council UK’s Best Common Practice Documents?
From time to time, Comms Council UK will produce Best Common Practice Documents (BCPs) on particular industry issues. These documents are recommended forms of guidance produced by the membership. Comms Council UK strongly recommends that members adhere to all BCPs. They are not mandatory requirements however like the Code of Practice. There is one Comms Council UK BCP document on porting and another on filtering produced by ISPA (Internet Services Providers’ Association) which Comms Council UK endorses.
Further information can be found here: Best Practice Documents.
Where can I get more detailed information about VoIP?
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