You might think voice-over-IP (VoIP) sounds like something only an IT professional can use, and many such services are aimed at business buyers. But not all of them. Ever been offered a “triple play” deal from your local cable company—internet, TV, and phone for one low monthly price? That’s a VoIP phone, too. However, those tend to be regional providers based on how the telecoms have divvied up internet provider boundaries.

Many people don’t realize that there are other home VoIP services available, and they not only focus on phone service but also have a national footprint. These services are more flexible, so you can take better advantage of VoIP’s key benefits.

What Is Residential VoIP?

As mentioned, you’ve probably been offered a home VoIP solution several times already if you’ve got cable TV service or if you’re getting your Internet access from one of the larger internet service providers (ISPs). Outfits like those love offering voice as the third leg of a “triple play” sales pitch: Internet, TV, and phone. When you see those offerings, you’ll be buying VoIP-based phone service. But these services generally come with fewer features than you’ll get from a dedicated VoIP provider because a triple-play company probably isn’t as focused on its VoIP product as it is on TV or internet service.

Fortunately, several dedicated residential VoIP providers offer nationwide service, usually with worldwide calling plans. With one of these, you should get at least four core features. These include caller ID, voicemail hosted by the provider (meaning you don’t need an answering machine), call waiting (essentially a one-line hold), 911 support (sometimes called “E911”), and three-way calling. There will likely be various other features, too, but they’ll differ across providers. The four listed here should be a baseline for any residential service. Most of these will work in a two-step process:

  • Sign up for the VoIP service on the provider’s website; and then
  • Receive some kind of bridge device in the mail that plugs into your wireless router on one side and your analog phones on the other. How easy these devices are to set up can vary from vendor to vendor, but all provide some level of support to help you get started.

Other basic features include the phone itself, should your provider offer its own handsets. Many residential providers don’t since their bridge devices allow them to work with old-style landline phones. Still, some, especially the more prominent and business-oriented players, do offer special VoIP phones even to residential buyers. These look and work the same as a regular phone aside from the initial setup process, which will require making sure the phone is connected to your internet router in some way and then configured to access the VoIP provider’s service from there.

And before you think this all runs only across a wire, know that even on the residential VoIP side, wireless calling is entirely mainstream. There are wireless VoIP handsets available from well-known makers like Yealink, and these are built to run over your wireless network. Additionally, some home VoIP providers will allow you to use your smartphone as an extension for their services. That means you can set your smartphone to ring if someone calls your home phone number. And, of course, if your existing landline phone has a wireless handset, that’ll work the same as always once you plug it into the VoIP bridge.

You don’t need to worry about getting lost in technobabble when setting up your new phone service. The best providers should be able to ship you pre-configured devices that shouldn’t require any intervention on your part. With these, you plug them into your internet router or connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and they’ll find the provider’s network on their own. Just power them up, connect to your network, and wait for the light to turn green.

Residential VoIP’s Advanced Features

That covers VoIP basics, but what about those more advanced options at the software layer? Software is where VoIP shines, and it’s why VoIP is able to offer more advanced features that a regular phone can’t. Whether home or business, a VoIP system can access a much richer software layer than a standard line from the plain old telephone service (POTS). On the business side, this flexibility has extended to integrating VoIP with other forms of communication, often to such a degree that they all become a single platform, generally called Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). You won’t find anything that sophisticated when you’re shopping for residential service, but then again, you probably don’t want that much complexity at home anyway.

Much of residential VoIP’s software runs on the provider’s servers, so you don’t need to worry about it. But parts will be running on your devices, whether that’s a PC, a mobile phone, or an internet VoIP phone. This software layer provides the rich feature fabric, which, along with its lower price, draws residential customers to the technology. Some of the more popular such features include:

  • An Always Reject List allows you to place specific numbers into what’s essentially a blocklist. Your VoIP account will know not to ring your phone when they call.
  • Smart call forwarding allows you to forward your phone number to one or even several other numbers. You might configure them to all ring at once, or ring in a specific order of preference. An example might be routing calls to your home phone first, then your mobile phone, and then your spouse’s mobile phone.
  • Virtual phone numbers are an increasingly popular option. These are second numbers attached to your primary VoIP account but managed separately. You can even purchase these through different services than your primary VoIP providers. One use for this might be to have a virtual extension of your home phone line that’s located in a different area code.
  • Voicemail routing can take multiple forms, but it refers to a set of rules you can apply to incoming calls that will automatically route them to voicemail without even causing a ring. For example, if calls come in with Caller ID blocked, those can be routed directly to voicemail. Or, if you’re not into talking to anyone, you can hang out a digital Do Not Disturb sign and route all calls to voicemail, perhaps until you’re feeling more social or every day between the hours of 9PM and 7AM, for example.

The softphone app is an essential advanced feature that’s ubiquitous in business VoIP services and quickly growing in the residential market. Imagine a piece of software that uses your computing device’s network connection, speakers, and microphone to turn it into a phone. If that softphone is attached to your VoIP account, that software will ring whenever your home phone does, and when you place calls on it, those calls will register as coming from your home phone number. Just by installing the software, you’ll be able to make and receive voice calls over your home phone account right away. And you’ll be able to do it on your PC, your Apple iPad, or even your smartphone. That last one is a gotcha, however.

There are two basic kinds of softphones: a “fat” phone that’s coded to run only on a full-fledged PC like a macOS, Linux, or Windows machine. This software needs an actual desktop or laptop CPU and all the other accouterments associated with a full-on PC to perform its functions. The other kind of softphone is one designed for a mobile device.

Mobile VoIP clients are “slimmer” than desktop softphones, which means they’re designed to look a little different and probably have fewer features, since mobile devices aren’t as powerful as desktop machines. But if you’re looking to run your home phone off your mobile phone wherever you are, then a mobile softphone is the ticket. When shopping for a provider, be sure to investigate whether the service offers a dedicated mobile client and whether that client will run on your mobile device. After that, see how much more it’ll add to your monthly service charge.

If you’re wondering what you get with a softphone that you won’t with a standard phone handset, then that depends on the service. Business-class softphones offer all kinds of features related to online meeting collaboration, call routing, multi-line conference calling, and more. From a residential VoIP perspective, you’ll most often find video conferencing (though more and more this is becoming a separate product), a voicemail-to-text converter, detailed call records, and user controls for anyone other than yourself using the service. Some services also offer faxing, text chat, and call metering so you can see how much you’re spending.

The Pricing Question

Typically, price is one of the most important reasons people opt for residential VoIP. One of the more attractive pricing models is the “triple play” sales pitch we mentioned above, which is offered by almost every regional residential cable company and internet provider: Get your Internet, TV, and phone service rolled into one monthly charge. Bundling like this also means a technician will hook everything up for you, including your phone. You’ll probably also be able to use the same phone you’re using now instead of having to migrate to a VoIP phone.

The caveat there is the proverbial fine print, usually located just below the really attractive dollar figure. This small print generally details precisely how many months that nice number will remain in effect before the bloom comes off the rose and you start getting billed at a much higher number that represents the service’s actual cost. Many providers don’t even print this higher number on their websites, so be sure to ask the sales guy on the phone before you sign up. The nice number that pulled you in can often double once the introductory period wears off. Some providers even attach a minimum length of time that you’ll need to suffer these higher costs before you can change or modify the service without getting hit with an additional early termination charge.

The services we detail below, however, aren’t triple-play providers. Every service described here is an independent residential VoIP provider that you can use over any broadband internet connection. But while that means their pricing is probably somewhat more transparent than in a triple play scenario, some of them do still obscure the actual number you’ll wind up paying. This can happen in several ways.

First, there might be a meager cost or even free “basic” or “introductory” tier that’s so feature-poor that the vast majority of customers will opt for the next level up. That’ll be the full-priced tier. Another common practice is a one- or two-year contract, each with a slightly lower price offered next to a significantly higher-priced month-to-month tier. Additionally, while most residential VoIP services offer unlimited calling, some vary their pricing on call restrictions. Those will come either in minutes (with higher pricing attached to monthly overages) or geographic regions. The latter usually start with nationwide calling and then tack on another charge for worldwide calling or even separate charges for different countries.

Should You Jump?

While it doesn’t offer as many features as its business-class version, residential VoIP is still overwhelmingly attractive compared to standard phone service. Firstly because of its much lower overall price tag and second because it simply offers more features than an old-fashioned landline. With a bit of research, you can keep your current number; suffer zero restrictions when it comes to 911 or long-distance calling; drop your monthly price to a low, fixed number; and take advantage of VoIP-only features, like intelligent call routing, virtual numbers, and more.

The only area where a landline offers something VoIP phones can’t is that they’re more disaster-resistant. Lose power to your house and your landline phone will keep on working. But if the power drops to your home’s internet router, your VoIP phone goes dark, too. However, this limitation is less crippling these days as most people have a smartphone of some kind backing up their home phone. That phone will keep working in the event of a power outage, which means you can still make emergency calls. And if you’ve opted for a mobile client on your home VoIP account, you can even make those calls using your home phone number rather than your mobile number if you prefer.

You’ll also need to be aware of E911 requirements when you opt for VoIP. Your VoIP provider needs to register your street address with emergency services so that they can respond to the right location when you call. If you move, you’ll need to make sure your E911 record gets updated with your new address, as it might not be automatic.

One last consideration is your job. The pandemic has many companies expanding their VoIP services to employees who now primarily work from home. If your company is starting a hybrid work culture, then talking to your IT support person before buying a home VoIP service might be a good idea. If your employer wants to send you a VoIP phone or manage the installation of VoIP service in your home, you can probably add a residential deal by simply tacking your home number onto the business phone.

Overall, VoIP is simply the better option for most customers. Dropping your landline means no more hidden fees or metered long-distance calling charges. Most providers charge everything at one low rate, and your ability to customize your phone service to exactly what you need is far greater. Unless you’ve got some highly unique circumstances that somehow mandate a landline, VoIP is simply the better choice.

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Dani Khan CEO at Have 3 years of experience in the websites field. Dani Khan is the premier and most trustworthy informer for technology, telecom, business, auto news, games review in World.


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