Many users may have been led to believe that voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) requires expensive and complicated equipment with phonetically dissonant names. In reality, this assessment could not be farther from the truth. While users will need the right equipment to take advantage of the full host of services and features of VoIP, the service is completely scalable—meaning the system is able to grow or shrink to meet users’ demands. Though there is a lot of hardware available, users don’t typically need most of it. In response to the volume of products available versus the essential equipment needed, we have assembled the basic prerequisites needed for VoIP service.

The best place to start is with the basics– users can need as little as one item (aside from the service), a phone. VoIP users typically need a phone for most functionality. Many providers offer a virtual number service, which forwards call to your phone (typically mobile phone). Additionally, these services establish a number and voicemail that are separate from your personal number. In doing this, users are also fitted with a number of features (exclusive to VoIP) such as auto attendant and voicemail transcription. In terms of appearance these services can have a very positive effect on a users company. For example, a small business that utilizes VoIP service is able to appear as a much larger organization. Along with size, VoIP also fits companies with professionalism through its use of features and standardized operations.

As stated above, a service plan is the only necessity other than a phone. As the industry continues to experience substantial growth, more and more providers will appear. While each provider offers different pricing and different plans, users should always be aware of the basic needs of a service, i.e. reliability, quality, features, pricing, accessibility, and customer support. Each of these will range from provider to provider (usually based on pricing and plan); however, each of these is essential to the operating of VoIP services.

While a phone and service can be considered core-essentials, the level of involvement dictates the need for additional hardware. For example, a residential user may only need a pc, softphone software, and a headset to make and receive VoIP calls (over the computer); however, a small business may need more. The majority of offices need only three things to get VoIP—an IP phone, a working high-speed internet connection, and a subscription to a business VoIP provider—because VoIP piggy backs on to a users existing infrastructure. Therefore, assuming that users have the basic tools for business (i.e. electricity) they don’t need more to start making VoIP calls. This hold true for basic use of VoIP, but extended use may require more equipment. For example, users that sign up for a VoIP service deployed at home or in the office that uses the existing phones will need ATAs, or Analog Telephone Adapters. These adapters act as an interface between an analog PSTN phone and a digital VoIP line.

As stated above, VoIP calls can be made with a computer using softphone software (separate from a phone). In pursuing this option, users will need a headset, or a microphone and set of speakers. Aside from these options, users can opt to use a webcam (as may have been done already with Skype, Yahoo, or another client); however, now the same network used to make videoconferences is used to make calls. Therefore, with this method, users can make videoconferences as well as calls. While this may sound under-whelming, it should be noted that VoIP videoconferences have higher picture and sound quality than they did in the past due to better encoding technology and higher bandwidth availability. Additionally, VoIP video and audio conference calling makes it easy to distinguish who is speaking, which makes it easier on your ears and eyes to follow the action. Though conference calls allow users to have a number of different people communicate, each has to be using their own phone, or you can buy an IP conference phone.Cosmetically, an IP conference phone looks very different from a regular phone. It lays flat on a table, and has speakers and microphones that point in three different directions. The microphones pick up the different voices, and software inside makes it sound like it’s coming from the proper direction, rather than have it sound flat. Conference IP phones also plug into Ethernet cables; however, some have wireless options.

In determining equipment needed, users need to know their intended use. As stated above, use dictates need. Another example of this can be seen in users using an app on their smartphone or tablet device. This method of VoIP use sends the users voice over their device’s data or Wi-Fi connection instead of using cellular technology, allowing users to save minutes, as well as access to features including read e-faxes and use the features of your VoIP provider’s web portal. In addition to this, mobile apps fit users with all the features and benefits of the virtual number service(s) previously mentioned.

In order to realize VoIP on the grandest scale, users can utilize immersive telepresence with giant screens and specially-placed speakers and microphones. With this level of use, users feel as if they are communicating with one another in person. With advanced level of quality, these systems are very expensive and generally require a large amount of bandwidth. All VoIP service requires a high speed internet connection; however, bandwidth is an expansion on this. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted at once. Users will need plenty  of this to ensure the quality of their service. A lack can result in latency effects like echo, as well as dropped calls.

The equipment needs/requirements of VoIP users span the full spectrum of little and cheap to large and expensive. Ultimately, the users intended use of service constitutes requirements; therefore, it is absolutely critical that a prospective user knows what they are looking for in a service. Aside from the fluctuation of needs, users will require internet connection, a phone and/or a computer, and a service to utilize VoIP. While there are increasing amount of service options, there are just as many hardware options. Despite VoIP’s conception as a complex and needy industry, actual requirements are very limited.