VoIP for dummies. A basic guide for NZ users.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 12-Apr-2009 21:18

What is VoIP?

VoIP is short for Voice over Inter Protocol. Quite simply it’s the ability to encode your voice, convert this to data packets which are then sent over a local network or internet connection to a remote device where it’s turned back into sound. Most people out there have heard of Skype and instantly think of this when they hear the word VoIP.

Skype is VoIP product but it uses a proprietary protocol that is incompatible with the SIP protocol which has become the defacto standard for VoIP.

There are three major providers offering SIP VoIP services in New Zealand, WorldxChange’s VFX and DVX services, 2talk and iTalk. Both iTalk and 2talk are run by Callplus but have different pricing structures. There are a large number of VoIP providers in New Zealand but these really are the three main providers that many people will encounter and all three provider the ability to have local phone numbers in a large number of regions. An extensive list of providers is available from the voipusers.org.nz website

I want to get into VoIP – what do I need?

You have three options. A PC based softphone, a standalone VoIP phone or an ATA (analogue telephone adapter) that allows you to use a regular analogue telephone.

The cheapest way is to use a Softphone. This allows you to use a headset plugged into your PC soundcard or USB port with a PC based phone application to make or receive calls. Unless you have a high quality headset call quality can be unpredictable and fine tuning is required to ensure you don’t suffer problems with echo. Your computer always needs to be switched on to make and receive calls.

An ATA (analogue telephone adapter) has an Ethernet port that plugs into your router and has an RJ11 jack on the back for connecting a regular corded or cordless phone to make calls. This is completely separate from your PC and it doesn’t need to be switched on to make calls. There are a large number of manufacturers producing ATA’s and the call quality will typically be very good but may require some fine tuning with some phones to eliminate issues such as echo.

A SIP VoIP phone looks similair to a regular desktop phone but doesn’t need any adapters. It plugs straight into the Ethernet port on your router and once again this is completely separate from your PC. A VoIP phone offers the best call quality but will typically be the most expensive option. Once again there are a large number of manufacturers producing SIP compatible phones and in practice any SIP compatible device will work with any VoIP provider offering a SIP service.

The main advantages of a true VoIP phone over an ATA are the ability to have dedicated keys for phone functions (such as DND or voicemail) and the fact many phones these days have large LCD screens allowing you to do cool things such as running XML based applications. Call quality of a true VoIP phone will also typically be superior and additional high quality voice codecs like G.722 are also available.


So why would I want to move to VoIP?

The reality is that all voice calling is moving towards VoIP. In around 5 years time Telecom will have moved most of it’s voice calling to VoIP equipment. As a normal phone user you won’t notice any difference, you will still receive a dialtone when you pick up your regular home phone. This dialtone however won’t be coming from Telecom’s legacy analogue NEAX phone exchanges, it will typically be coming from a line card in your nearest Telecom road side cabinet.  This line card will connect to Telecom’s IMS network and will be completely IP based. Right now both Vodafone and Orcon are doing this on their Orcon+ and Vodafone Red networks however neither network will allow you to connect a VoIP phone or ATA directly to their VoIP network, you’re stuck with having to use a regular analogue phone running off your incoming phoneline.

There are two main reasons people are adopting VoIP right now. First off they’re choosing to use a VoIP provider for all calling rather than legacy analogue POTS (plain old telephone service) or ISDN voice services provided to Telecom or TelstraClear. With unbundled internet connections (the ability to receive an internet connection without the requirement for a phoneline) people are able to completely replace their existing phonelines with a VoIP based solution and benefit from the advanced features that are on offer that simply can’t be delivered cost effectively over traditional POTS based telephony.

Many people are also moving towards VoIP based solutions due to significant savings that can be made due to the cheaper calling rates available from VoIP providers. VoIP providers such as VFX and 2talk offer calling rates of around 5c per minute for national calls and to many international destinations. Calls between users on the same VoIP network are also typically free so there are no costs associated with calling somebody else connected to the same network, no matter where in the world they could be located.

One of the beauties of VoIP is that borders also open up – if you’re somebody in New Zealand who has friends or family in another country then you can sign up with a VoIP provider in that country, receive a local phone number and your friends or family can call you for the same price as any other local call. If you sign up with a provider such as Faktortel you can receive an Australian phone number and can also make flat rate untimed calls to anywhere in Australia for 12c – that’s per call, not per minute!

If you’re a business user then the benefits of VoIP can be even greater. If you have multiple branches or offices then users can all have extensions off the same PBX and make calls between extensions for free. You can also have phone numbers in different cities all liked back to a single PBX. These features can be done with existing analogue phones and phone lines but can’t be done as easily or as cheaply as it can with VoIP.

You could be anywhere in the world that has an internet connection and have a remote extension that works just like you’re in the office. If you have a WiFi & VoIP capable mobile phone such as many recent Nokia N and E series handsets you can connect to a WiFi hotspot in London and make and receive calls without incurring any costs other than the cost of your WiFi connection and avoid extremely costly mobile roaming costs for voice calls.

So how much will it cost me to move to VoIP?

For a home user the cost of an ATA adapter for existing phones is somewhere in the $100 - $200 range for a basic unit. It is also possible to buy ADSL modem/router units with built in ATA but these can cost significantly more depending on the brand. If you want a true VoIP phone these start at around $150. If you are plugging an ATA into an existing router/modem ensure that you enable QoS (quality of service) on your router so that voice traffic is given priority over other internet traffic. If you don’t do this or have a router that doesn’t support QoS then you risk having your audio drop out if you’re trying to access the internet from a PC at the same time as you’re making a phone call.

If you’re a business user then the move to VoIP can be dome in many different ways. You could replace all your existing phones and PBX with a VoIP PBX unit (such as a Epygi Quadro’s or PC based solution such as trixbox) but this is a significant upfront cost. A PBX option such as this will give you all the features you’d come to expect from a traditional analogue PBX such as call transfers, music on hold, DND, auto attendant etc but then offer plenty of other features such as voicemail (with the ability to have your voicemails to straight to email), realtime call analysis and reporting, click to dial from your Outlook contacts list and the ability for run PC based software so a receptionist can view the status of all users and transfer calls all with the click of a mouse.

If you’re just wishing to have a VoIP option for cheaper calling rates then an ATA can be hooked up to an existing PBX to allow routing of calls via a VoIP provider who offers cheaper calling rates than your existing provider. This is also a cheap way of giving yourself access to other markets, if you’re a business who has customers in Australia for example you could register this ATA with an Australian VoIP provider and allow your customers to ring you on an Australian number rather than them having to call New Zealand.

What are the catches?

The biggest catch when it comes to VoIP is the quality of the hardware you are using and the quality of the network and internet connections you are using. Most people in NZ receive broadband using an ADSL connection and the quality of this connection will determine how well your VoIP will work. If you’re a business customer then a higher quality connection such as a fibre optic connection from a broadband provider such as Cutylink is highly recommended. The only other downside is that your VoIP phone will not work in a power cut – if you’re running a VoIP setup at home it pays to ensure you have a UPS powering your router and ATA or VoIP phones to ensure you can still place calls while the power is out.

I hope this basic guide has been of use to you and has answered some of the questions you may have about VoIP telephony. If you have any other questions feel free to post here on the Geekzone Forums where there are plenty of people who can offer you assistance and advice.


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sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems. I'll also a co-founder of the TravelTalk.nz travel site. 

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com