VoIP - Voice over IP
VoIP or Voice-over-Internet Protocol is a technology that facilitates voice communications over the Internet without the use of the common PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). In short, it allows your computer to become an "Internet Telephone" and will even make calls to those with regular telephone lines.
This is done by taking the analog voice stream and converting into digital data packets which are then transmitted over the Internet in much the same fashion as email or photos files are sent. Once the signal is received at the other end it is then converted back to an analog audio stream for the recipient to hear. These conversions are done by the use of an ATA (Analog Telephone Adaptor).
The main benefit of VoIP is that users do not incur the standard long distance fees associated with regular residential service as all calls are technically "free" of per minute charges. Service plans for access do vary and range from a flat fee for a fixed amount of minutes or unlimited minutes for a slightly higher fee. Regardless of the plan most users realize significant cost savings when compared to traditional telephone service and in many cases are able to forgo their old service altogether.
Due to the size and volume of these data packets traditional Dialup (56k modem) service is unable to provide the necessary connection speeds. Consequently, a high speed Internet connection such as DSL or Cable Internet is required for service. Additionally, VoIP hardware such as the ATA ready modem (Analog Telephone Adaptor) is required to utilize the service.