VOIP and it's Providers

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is an Internet phone service that bypasses your normal local telephone company. Internet VoIP service rings and has a dial tone just like any other telephone, but calls are routed over your Internet connection. VoIP's growing popularity is lowering the cost of phone communication for many homes, and for some, it’s eliminating plain old telephone service (POTS) entirely. Unlike traditional analog telephone signals, which travel through a PSTN (public switched telephone network), VoIP digitizes the speaker's voice and sends it through either cable or DSL broadband Internet connections. An adapter connects your regular telephone to your Internet connection or you can always use a stand alone IP phone or USB IP phone (you need a computer for USB IP phone to work)

Call quality of VoIP is a big determining factor based on consumer surveys. Internet lines that are getting crowded with more downloads can have glitches like echoes and dropped calls, especially during peak hours. This is especially a problem with new VoIP players like Vonage, Packet8 and SunRocket, since they use public networks for their services. An August 2006 VoIP study by Keynote Systems noted that call quality did improve a bit last year, though it singled out cable providers as having the best audio responsiveness and best reliability. The reason: cable companies carry IP signals over their private networks, so they can control the traffic.

Types of VoIP

Thus, there are two main categories of VoIP: Hardware-based VoIP and software-based VoIP. Hardware services require a converter box (called an ATA) that connects your phone to your broadband modem or router, and your computer does not have to be turned on to make and receive calls. Software VoIP works through your computer with a microphone, so your computer has to be on to receive calls.

The most flexible application of VoIP requires only one additional piece of hardware, an ATA (analog telephone adapter). An ATA is an analog-to-digital converter which connects your traditional phone to your Internet connection. Most service providers include the ATA in their VoIP packages. In nearly every case (but not all), the adapter you use will be locked or password protected to correspond only with the service provider.

A second hardware-based option is an IP phone, which is similar in appearance to a standard telephone but includes a built-in ATA adapter. The IP phone connects directly to the router with a standard RJ-45 Ethernet connector. These phones are available in three different standards: MGCP (Media Gateway Control Protocol), H.323, and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). SIP is the most popular types, and it is quickly becoming the standard. ConsumerSearch plans to cover SIP phones in a separate report. On the plus side, no computer or software is needed to use an SIP phone; the only requirement is a broadband Internet connection.
My Top 3 VOIP providers

1. Onesuite SuiteAdvantage - Though a new player in VoIP field, Onesuite has a long background with telecommunication service. Onesuite has been in the long distance service business for almost a decade and enjoying success in prepaid phone card market. I've been using their phone cards for 3 years now and so far I've been very satisfied with its services and rates.

Onesuite dived into VoIP scene early last year but its limited to their beta testers and some customers, I've been privilege to try their VoIP service and report bugs or what not whenever I encounter one. Last week they officially launched SuiteAdvantage and will start charging $2.95 monthly for the service. Let me enumerate some of their features I particularly like:
A. Pay as you go - meaning I am not tied up in Onesuite VoIP and I can quit anytime not thinking about any unused minutes or anything like that unlike other VoIP providers.
B. Online (real time) records access - I can check my balance, call records, transactions anytime and in real time.
C. Lower rates to some countries - regular Onesuite phone card service rates are one of the lowest in industry but if I choose to use their VoIP feature then I can get lower rates in some countries.
D. Voice mail feature - can be activated anytime, voice mail can be access online or by phone
E. Compatible with USB IP phone - So you can use a USB IP phone that it looks like your regular phone. Soon (an email from Onesuite support) SuiteAdvantage will be compatible with IP phone that doesn't require a computer

2. Yahoo! Voice - this is my favorite pc to pc calls. Yahoo! trademark is so popular that almost everyone who knows how to browse know what is Yahoo! Even before Skype, Yahoo is in the business of PC to PC calling and one of the pioneers in the industry. I'll take Yahoo! voice over Skype any day of the week. What I like most from Yahoo! voice is:
A. Easy installation/set up - even if you are not tech savy you will find the installion very easy.
B. Very good quality - PC to PC calls are very good. I even tried to use it with 56k dial ups on both end and we can still have a decent conversation.
C. Very popular - most people has a Yahoo! account one way or the other.

3. SunRocket - is my favorite until Onesuite SuiteAdvantage came into play. One of the cheapest unlimited (US, Canada, Puerto Rico) calling at $16.95 monthly. Free international minutes to some countries. If you do make frequent international calls, you should consider SunRockets international plans. Some points I like:

A. Can cancel and get refund for unused minutes/credits
B. Good voice quality
C. Easy to sign up