What is VoIP?

VoIP calls can be made on the internet using a VoIP service provider and standard computer audio systems. Alternatively, some service providers support VoIP through ordinary telephones that use special adapters to connect to a home computer network.

How Does It Work?

A VoIP telephone is connected to either a computer or a modem which provides connectivity to the internet.  The user experience is virtually the same when you place or receive a call. You dial just like any other telephone, but your voice is digitized and put into small individual groups of data called packets. These packets of data go over the internet much like email and arrive at their destination where they are reconstituted into voice signals for the listener.

This service can be delivered by a variety of providers including phone companies, cable companies, and virtually any organization offering services as an internet service provider. One interesting thing to note is that the packets do not always travel together.  However, VoIP technology allows for them to arrive together, based on routing, and complete a call as if you were using the telephones of today.

Static vs. Nomadic VoIP

Static VoIP is when a computer or VoIP telephone service is not movable. The service is provided by a cable company, for example, where the telephone does not leave the residence. Nomadic is usually a VoIP phone installed in a portable computer which can be taken with the subscriber. Calls can be made from anywhere in the world there is no need for a “hard wired” phone line, only an internet connection.

Public Safety Challenges of VoIP Services

Traditional phone services associate a particular phone number with a fixed address. Portable interconnected VoIP services enable consumers to take their home or business phone service almost anywhere. Certain VoIP services can be used from internet connection so the location of the caller cannot automatically be determined.

This raises a number of challenges for the emergency services community. Those listed on the FCC’s VoIP and 911 Service page include:

  • VoIP 911 calls may not connect to the 911 call center serving your current location or may improperly ring to the administrative line of the 911 call center, which may not be staffed after hours or by trained 911 operators.
  • VoIP 911 calls may correctly connect to the 911 call center but not automatically transmit the caller’s phone number and/or location information.
  • VoIP customers may need to provide location or other information to their VoIP providers, and update this information each time they change locations for their VoIP 911 service to function properly.
  • VoIP service may not work during a power outage or when the internet connection fails or becomes overloaded.

The FCC has taken action to make sure that emergency calls from these VoIP services will get through to the appropriate public safety authorities. The FCC requires that providers of interconnected VoIP telephone services using the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) meet Enhanced 911 (E911) obligations. E911 systems automatically provide emergency service personnel with a 911 caller’s call-back number and, in most cases, location information.