VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, is a means of replacing traditional landline phone service with a similar service provided over the internet. Due to its low cost, especially regarding long distance, it has become increasingly popular. But why choose VoIP?

The biggest reason that people choose a VoIP home phone is cost. While cellular telephones and landlines have both become significantly less expensive in recent years, VoIP remains the most affordable option for those who do not require the portability of a cell phone or the unquestioned uptime of a traditional landline. The cost advantage of VoIP is particularly pronounced when it comes to international calls, which would usually cost dollars per minute even on the most flexible cellular phone plans.

There are many popular VoIP providers, each designed to handle a particular target market. Some focus on business customers, while others focus primarily on personal phones. Additionally, not all services are the same regarding cost or products offered, and they may not all be ideal for all consumers. So what are some of the best VoIP services out there, and how do they stack up?

Microsoft Skype

Since Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011, it has focused on making Skype the premiere voice and video messaging app, as well as a powerful VoIP technology. Unlike almost any other chat program, Skype can move effortlessly between instant messages, audio chat and video chat with ease. Additionally, as it is a completely software-based solution, it requires no hardware installation or purchase, and the software itself is free, with charges being placed only for calls to landlines and cellular phones.

Cost is where Skype has the greatest advantage over other VoIP competitors. The basic software is ad-supported and 100% free and enables free instant messaging, voice calls and phone calls to any other Skype user. Skype is available for most platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, some game consoles, and most smartphones. A single user account can be reached over all of these systems, enabling conversations to effortlessly be carried from place to place. The ability to turn one’s phone into a mobile VoIP call center or a video chat source makes Skype the most popular VoIP provider in the world today, especially in areas where cost or mobility is a concern.

Skype’s primary downsides are related to the fact that it is free, however. Because it must be ad supported, many users complain about the presence or obtrusiveness of advertisements when sending instant messages or making calls. While a paid version without ads is available, it is designed for business use only, and it is quite expensive. Additionally, while it is possible to obtain a Skype number to receive calls as well as make them, it is not available by default and indeed costs extra for each month of use. Additionally, as Skype is in no way a traditional phone carrier, it is not required to provide any emergency services options and indeed does not do so.

Therefore, Skype is the best option for those who need a cheap, easy, sometimes solution as a supplement to their primary phone or as a means of reaching out to those who live abroad. The investment cost of $0 makes it an ideal solution for those who already have some form of telephony available, but it is a limited option for those who need a full landline replacement device. This makes it more ideal for casual conversation or as a supplement to an existing service.

Ooma Telo

The Ooma Telo system is a VoIP technology designed to replace traditional home phones. With a handset that looks like a regular cordless phone and a very simple, basic installation, the focus of the Ooma is to enable those who want to stick with traditional telephony to nonetheless save money in terms of their telephone service. Rather than billing per call, most calls are free, and instead, there is a small monthly rate to pay. Additionally, like a landline, emergency services are provided, making this a superior option when chosen to be a person or family’s sole telephone system.

The Ooma Telo offers competitive international rates, but its primary purpose is to replace the home phone. While its initial startup cost is around $100, and it requires special Ooma handsets, it nonetheless is otherwise like classic landline, with basic features such as call waiting and voicemail available with the basic subscription. An advanced subscription also enables the Ooma to block unwanted calls, integrate into modern smart devices such as the Amazon Echo, and coordinate with smartphones to enable the operator to take their Ooma number with them everywhere.

Indeed, while it is an excellent home phone replacement device, the Ooma’s primary purpose is to integrate into modern computers, smartphones, and other smart devices to function more as a substitute for telephone service than to just be a phone system unto itself. Between the phone and computer apps, its ability to integrate into many smart home systems and other unique advantages, it is clear that the primary purpose of the Ooma is to provide additional functionality to such devices in addition to basic home telephony. This makes it an excellent option for those looking to have a smart home, but it may prove to be an unnecessary feature for those who do not have such devices.

Vonage

Vonage has been in business since 2001 with the objective of providing Internet-based telephony and nothing else. This focus has led to a very high-quality VoIP system that is designed to integrate into existing phone infrastructure and replace a traditional landline with as little hassle as possible. While Vonage handsets are available, the core Vonage VoIP unit is designed to accommodate existing lines, and in fact, can be integrated into an existing house telephone setup without the replacement of any hardware. This makes it a superior option for older customers or for those who want to minimize the cost of equipment investment without the limitations of web-only solutions.

Vonage offers a very competitive first year of service, although only for users who sign a multi-year contract. Subsequent years are within the expected expense for a service that offers free domestic calls and reduced rate international calls, however. Vonage also offers voicemail, emergency services, call waiting, and other standard services. Indeed, its emergency services option is one of the better ones available for VoIP options, as you provide Vonage with your exact address, which is then sent to the 911 call center upon the number being dialed.

Where Vonage falls short is in the digital realm. Unlike much of the competition, accessing Vonage via your PC costs extra, and doing so via your smartphone or another smart device is not possible. Video conferencing and text messaging are not available as well. This makes Vonage an inferior option for people who rely on such communication services, especially in light of the ubiquity of cheap cellular phones in many areas. However, it is very price competitive due to its stripped-down nature, and the fact that, once installed, it is essentially a simple landline makes it much more approachable for those who are not tech-inclined, or who just do not need any additional services.