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VoIP Phones 101

Calling Out the Basics of VoIP Telephony

By: Hans Griffin III

What’s the difference between a “VoIP” or “IP phone” and a regular old analog phone? Short answer: A lot. In this article we’ll look for a longer answer by exploring VoIP phones further.

If you grew up with a phone in your house, you probably remember the wire that connected it to the wall outlet. You might have one of these analog phones in your home now.

“VoIP,” an acronym for “Voice over Internet Protocol,” works entirely different. An IP phone is plugged into your router or network switch. The router or switch then connects to the hosted VoIP service or PBX.

IP connectivity lends these phones a whole suite of incredible telephony and UC features. This type of connection also equips some phone models with a different form of power supply and enhanced interoperability with other office equipment like PCs.

While all of the features available to VoIP phones are great, let’s start with the basics. This is a 101 lesson, after all.

When shopping for an IP phone, one of the first things to consider is how many line appearances the device can support. The number of line appearance determines how many simultaneous calls the phone can display through its interface. For example, a phone with four line appearances can show you that one caller is on hold, one is calling you, one is currently engaged with you, and that another line is still open.

As opposed to an analog phone, the lines on an IP phone are virtual rather than physical. To use our example again, the four line appearances on an IP phone are supplied via one Ethernet cord, whereas on an analog phone they would require four separate telephone cords.

This single Ethernet cord can also supply the IP phone with PoE. “PoE” is an acronym for “Power over Ethernet,” or the method of supplying power to the device through the network cable. Both the phone and the connected network switch need to be enabled for PoE.

AC adapters can be available for IP phones, even those with PoE.

Phones equipped with dual Ethernet ports are often built this way to connect to the network via the first port, and then to a PC or other interoperable device via the second port. A computer can be used to access a web-based GUI for managing or customizing the phone, as well as many other possible features unique to the phone.

Connecting the phone to a PC is not the only option available to some IP phones. Expandable IP phones feature compatibility with modules and other accessories. Modules can provide additional busy lamp fields or a means of viewing the status of office extensions, turning your phone into an attendant console for power users.

USB ports, Bluetooth, audio jacks and more provide additional means of interfacing a headset with your phone. Or for less than private conversations, an onboard speakerphone can make conferencing from your desktop a breeze.

Choosing the right configuration for your IP phone might not be the easiest task. There’s also more to consider, like whether you want a wireless phone or a video-enabled media phone. However, the best way to start is to determine how much connectivity you need and to understand that IP is not to be thought of the same way as analog.

For more, please contact IP Phone Warehouse.

Or check out our other articles about VoIP phones, including our recommendations and helpful FAQ articles.