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  1. 1. A PUBLICATION OF THE PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION OF TEXAS CUSTOMER FACTS Voice Over Internet Protocol (V0IP) Voice over Internet Protocol, or “VoIP,” is a type of regular conventional phone. This third kind of VoIP telecommunications technology that converts analog service is growing the fastest and consequently gener- voice signals from a phone or headset into digital data ating the most questions and concerns. and transports the bits the same way that e-mail mes- The Advantages of VoIP sages and attachments are sent. There are three types of VoIP, each one with implications that consumers The biggest advantage of VoIP service over traditional should understand before signing up with a given phone service is price, if you already have a broad- provider. band connection such as digital cable or DSL. Addi- tionally, because VoIP is a largely unregulated “infor- The first type of VoIP uses the local public telephone mation service,” VoIP providers currently do not have network just like traditional phone service, but calls to pay connection fees to transport long distance calls are converted into data and transported over broad- or other fees that get tacked on to traditional phone band networks, then reconverted to analog signals on service bills, making VoIP service cheaper by compar- either end. ison. You do need a broadband Internet connection The second type of VoIP, peer-to-peer (P2P), pro- like digital cable or DSL. Be sure to figure this cost vides a software application for your computer that into your total phone service cost. Many consumers does the analog-to-digital conversion and transmits who already have a broadband connection can save by conversations over the Internet rather than over the subscribing to a VoIP service. public phone network. With peer-to-peer VoIP ser- Because VoIP is an Internet application, some pro- vice, you can only “call” others who also use peer-to- viders allow you to check your voice messages directly peer VoIP software on their computers. It’s a limited from a computer and easily manage and share mes- service, but it’s relatively inexpensive. This type of sages just like e-mail. VoIP providers offer a range of service is not meant to replace your traditional phone features that take advantage of this important differ- service but can save you a little money on what would ence between Internet calling and traditional calling otherwise be long distance calls to those other VoIP services. subscribers. Many businesses have developed internal phone systems using peer-to-peer VoIP networks that Certain types of VoIP can be tied to an Internet ad- allow calling between offices located anywhere in the dress, which can move with you anywhere. With a world, thus avoiding local and long distance calling VoIP modem and phone adapter connected to your fees. laptop, you can make and receive calls to and from your local phone number no matter what area code or The third type of VoIP, “hybrid VoIP,” allows you to international code you are in at the time. The VoIP use your phone to make digital calls to anyone who provider makes sure its system works with the tradi- has a phone, not just other subscribers to your VoIP tional phone network. Not all VoIP platforms allow provider. The conversations are converted into data “nomadic” calling, so check with your provider (or and transported to an Internet “gateway” that routes the ones you’re considering). your call to the number you’re calling, whether it’s a traditional phone on the public network or another VoIP and 911 VoIP subscriber’s computer. Most major cable com- Since November 2005, all VoIP providers that allow panies now offer digital phone service that is actu- you to make calls to and from the traditional tele- ally VoIP services. Each call is transported over the phone network (excluding peer-to-peer VoIP soft- cable network as VoIP before being passed, through a ware providers) must supply 911 emergency calling gateway, on to the public switched telephone network (continued on back) to be completed in the same manner as a call from a
  2. 2. providers clearly state that their service will not sup- (continued from front) port third-party security systems. capabilities to their customers. Previously, some VoIP • If you make international calls to landlines or services could not convey to emergency operators who wireless phones using VoIP, your provider may tack was making a 911 call and where the caller was located, on fees for connecting those calls, which could drive two critical pieces of information for local rescue, up the service cost. Read the fine print concerning police, and fire department personnel. Today, all international calling rates and restrictions before “interconnected” VoIP providers must deliver all 911 signing up. calls to the local emergency call center with the caller’s callback number and physical location and let their • VoIP directory services may not provide the same customers know the capabilities and limitations of level of operator service with an Internet phone. their VoIP 911 service. • It is not clear how regulators will deal with tele- Other Differences between VoIP and Tradi- marketers who send “VoIP spam” messages to VoIP phone subscribers. Traditional phone users can sign tional Phone Service up for “no call” lists to avoid being deluged by tele- • If your broadband Internet connection goes down, marketing calls, but there is no such list to restrict your VoIP phone may not work. Some providers Internet spammers. offer a service that will forward incoming calls to an alternate number (such as a cell phone) in the event • Some VoIP users have reported problems using a FAX machine over VoIP. You may have to change your the VoIP connection fails. FAX settings to send and receive faxes over VoIP. • Conventional telephones are powered by the local phone company’s network, so they keep working when you lose power. Since most VoIP services are tied to VoIP service is regulated by the federal government. computers, they shut down when the power goes out. You can buy a backup power supply for your com- puter, but if your broadband service is provided by your cable company, the cable delivery system itself may be without power, leaving you without phone ser- vice during an outage. Consider the cost of a backup power system before making a decision to switch to VoIP. • If you have a security/alarm system, contact your service provider to make sure your system will work with a VoIP system. Some VoIP providers claim their service will work with most alarm systems. Others are offering their own proprietary alarm services. A few Let Us Assist You COMPLAINTS: QUESTIONS: Call: 1-888-782-8477, in Austin 512-936-7120 Call: 1-888-782-8477, in Austin 512-936-7120 (TTY 512-936-7136) (TTY512-936-7136) Write: PUC - Customer Protection, P.O. Box 13326, Visit: Austin, TX 78711-3326 Email: Fax: 1-512-936-7003 Online: 9/09