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What is VoIP in South Carolina?

VoIP is the acronym for “Voice over Internet Protocol.” It simply means telephone services powered by the Internet. VoIP refers to a group of technologies that facilitate telephony services via Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The technology allows audio and video calls to be converted into digital signals, transmitted through broadband internet connections, or local area networks (LAN).

What are VoIP and Internet Calls?

VoIP is the same as Internet calling. The two are used interchangeably to describe the use of broadband Internet connections to deliver telephony services. Internet or VoIP calls utilize packet-switched Internet Protocol technology to transmit voice, video, and text messages over the internet. This contrasts to the circuit-switching telephony used by traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), available in landlines and wireless telephones.

How Do VoIP and Internet Calls Compare with Landlines and Cell Phones?

Landlines, wireless phones, and cell phones commonly referred to as traditional telephone services, are quite different from VoIP or Internet calling. The major difference is the Internet Protocol factor. Circuit switching technology is the back-bone of traditional/regular telephone services. The network requires point-to-point cable connections for communication. Whereas VoIP and internet calls use packet switching technology to transmit data in packets over digital networks.

For communication to occur, traditional telephony converts voice (sound) into signals. Landlines convert voice into electrical signals and transmit these via cable (copper wire) to the desired number. Each analog phone number is connected to a local PSTN or POTS telephone network/exchange through which the electrical signals are transferred to the correct terminal. On reaching its destination, the receiving phone converts the electrical signals back to sound waves. The technology relies on a complex network of cables.

For cell phones, the signal is transmitted via radio waves, which are routed through base stations using fixed antenna masts. Each mast receives and routes calls within its grid, a system that enables the same set of frequencies to be reused without interference, thus maximizing the number of phone calls managed by each antenna.

In comparison, VoIP phone service allows callers to receive and make calls through the internet. The system utilizes packet-switching Internet Protocol for all communications. The voice (sound) signals are converted into digital signals and packets of data. These are transmitted over the Internet to the VoIP provider via the existing broadband Internet connection, WiFi network, or LAN. The VoIP provider then routes the data through the cloud-based PBX (Private Branch Exchange), from where it can be sent to any VoIP phone, smartphone, tablet, computer, and even analog phone. Once the data reaches its destination, it reassembles and converts back into voice signals.

Internet calls use specialized equipment such as softphones, IP telephones, and ATAs. A softphone is any software that enables telephony services over the internet, via a computer, smartphone, and other internet-enabled communication gadgets. It can be installed on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. On the other hand, IP telephones connect directly to routers or modems, while ATAs are connected to analog phones to initiate VoIP calls.

In summary, VoIP services differ from landlines and cell phones in the following ways:

Cost savings: VoIP is generally cheaper than landlines and cellphones for telephony services. Since voice calls are transmitted over existing IP data networks, both local and international calls are cheaper on VoIP. Also, there is usually no set-up fee or the need to purchase additional hardware since one is using a device already owned. Most VoIP plans come with free and unlimited local calling and a fixed number of free minutes of long-distance calls per month. Plus, additional features/premium services attract little or no extra charges added to the monthly rates, unlike landlines or premium services that incur expensive surcharges with regular telephony.

Versatility: VoIP supports multimedia communication in addition to a myriad of other services. Unlike standard telephones that support audio-only communication, VoIP allows video calls/conferencing, SMS-texting, virtual voicemail, and skills-based incoming call routing.

Convenience: VoIP numbers can be used to make international calls directly without recourse to national codes. Also, they are not device-specific; one user device can be linked to several VoIP numbers, and one number can be used on multiple devices and by several users simultaneously.

Scalability: VoIP telephony is high on scalability. Since the network is cloud-based, it fits into the system of both large and small enterprises. This means the number of users is determined by the bandwidth available, and low-end users do not have to incur costs on additional phone lines to expand. It is also portable space-efficient, as it comes with wireless phones that can be taken around. It needs no dedicated space for hardware.

Flexibility: VoIP network is device agnostic, meaning users can make or receive calls with one number on several devices such as mobile phones, computers, cell phones, tablets, VoIP, even landline phones. As long as the required application, softphone, or ATA is utilized.

Reduced Maintenance Cost: Since VoIP technology runs on a cloud-based PBX, it allows users to run all their telephone systems over an existing Internet connection. This lowers maintenance costs since the network is more virtual/software-based than traditional telephony, which is hardware-based.

However, it is not as secure as landlines or cell phones because of the Internet’s unrestricted access. But, subscribers linked to VoIP numbers can be identified through reverse phone lookup searches just as subscribers on regular phone numbers.

Does South Carolina Regulate VoIP Providers?

South Carolina is one of the 39 states in the US that has passed legislation limiting or eliminating commission oversight of IP-enabled services. VoIP services inclusive as enacted by the Senate Bill (S277) passed in 2016. The deregulation is based on the assumption that market competition and the type of technology used to provide the service reduces the need for regulation. However, South Carolina requires VoIP providers to contribute to the universal service fund (USF) established for distribution to a carrier of last resort.

What Do You Need for VoIP and Internet Calls?

The most important thing needed for VoIP is the broadband Internet connection. This can be through a high-speed DSL modem (digital subscriber line), cable, or fiber optics. However, a full-fiber to the premises (FTTP) or ethernet connection guarantees users the absolute best experience possible for VoIP full packages. It offers the highest speed and does not lag over long distance calls. Of course, other broadband options are also effective - the equipment required depends on which method of VoIP the user needs.

  • VoIP calls with a computer: You require an Internet-ready laptop or desktop computer, the right software (a pick from Google Talk, Facetime, Skype), a headset, and speakers, with or without a microphone. Headsets enhance clarity and sound quality.
  • VoIP calls with landlines - You require a compatible phone and an ATA that can be plugged into a router. All must be compatible.
  • VoIP with Smartphone - You require a smartphone connected to Wi-Fi and installed with a preferred mobile application that enhances internet calls. Such mobile applications include Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, Viber, and Facebook Messenger smartphones. Calls made to analog landlines or cell phones are charged, while VoIP calls made between callers using the same application attract no fees.

Some VoIP providers may operate differently and require specific equipment. In such cases, contact your provider for specific details.

Are VoIP Numbers Different from Regular Phone Numbers?

Yes, they are. Though a VoIP number has the same ten digits as a regular phone number, it is markedly different from regular phone numbers in various ways, including:

  • A VoIP number operates anywhere there is a broadband Internet connection.
  • A VoIP number functions independently of location i.e., it is not location bound. The boundaries between local, national, or international numbers have been eliminated by the Internet’s endless connectivity.
  • A VoIP number is assigned to an individual, not a phone line.
  • A single VoIP number can be linked across devices, thereby granting comfortability and flexibility, unlike landline numbers that can only be used on a single device at a time.
  • Also, several devices can be linked to a single VoIP number to make calls simultaneously with no trace to the location of the devices stay hidden.

Can You Make Free Internet Calls?

Yes, you can make free internet calls, provided the conditions required to facilitate the call are met. The most important requirement is an application or softphone that enables free Internet calls. The most common types are:

  • App to App: A VoIP calling application that enables free internet calls between communication devices installed on each device. For instance, Whatsapp calls between smartphones and tablets or iPads. Such applications cannot be used to call regular numbers and devices with no compatible software installed.
  • App to Phone: A VoIP calling application that enables free internet calls from mobile devices such as smartphones to regular phone numbers. It allows users to call landlines and mobile phones on which the app is not installed.
  • PC to PC: Software or application that enables free phone calls between two computers on which it is installed.
  • PC to Phone: Applications that enable free Internet calls from PC to regular phone numbers.