VoIP (voice over IP) is the transmission of voice and multimedia content over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. VoIP historically referred to using IP to connect private branch exchanges (PBXs), but the term is now used interchangeably with IP telephony.
VoIP is enabled by a group of technologies and methodologies used to deliver voice communications over the internet, enterprise local area networks or wide area networks. VoIP endpoints include dedicated desktop VoIP phones, softphone applications running on PCs and mobile devices, and WebRTC-enabled browsers.
How does VoIP work?
VoIP uses codecs to encapsulate audio into data packets, transmit the packets across an IP network and unencapsulate the packets back into audio at the other end of the connection. By eliminating the use of circuit-switched networks for voice, VoIP reduces network infrastructure costs, enables providers to deliver voice services over their broadband and private networks, and allows enterprises to operate a single voice and data network.
VoIP also piggybacks on the resiliency of IP-based networks by enabling fast failover following outages and redundant communications between endpoints and networks.
VoIP protocols and standards
VoIP endpoints typically use International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standard codecs, such as G.711, which is the standard for transmitting uncompressed packets, or G.729, which is the standard for compressed packets.
Many equipment vendors also use their own proprietary codecs. Voice quality may suffer when compression is used, but compression reduces bandwidth requirements. VoIP typically supports non-voice communications via the ITU T.38 protocol to send faxes over a VoIP or IP network in real time.
Once voice is encapsulated onto IP, it is typically transmitted with the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) or through its encrypted variant, the Secure Real-Time Transport protocol. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is most often used to signal that it is necessary to create, maintain and end calls.
Additional components of a typical VoIP system include the following: an IP PBX to manage user telephone numbers; devices; features and clients; gateways to connect networks and provide failover or local survivability in the event of a network outage; and session border controllers to provide security, call policy management and network connections.
A VoIP system can also include location-tracking databases for E911 -- enhanced 911 -- call routing and management platforms to collect call performance statistics for reactive, and proactive voice-quality management.
The two main types of VoIP telephones are hardware-based and software-based.
A hardware-based VoIP phone looks like a traditional hard-wired or cordless telephone and includes similar features, such as a speaker or microphone, a touchpad, and a caller ID display. VoIP phones can also provide voicemail, call conferencing and call transfer.
Software-based IP phones, also known as softphones, are software clients installed on a computer or mobile device. The softphone user interface often looks like a telephone handset with a touchpad and caller ID display. A headset equipped with a microphone connects to the computer or mobile device to make calls. Users can also make calls via their computer or mobile device if they have a built-in microphone and speaker.