Tech Help PART ONE

Do you need a VoIP phone system?


VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a powerful buzzword, like "solid state," "digital" and "dot com" were in the past.


  • Sadly, many people who use the term, have no idea what it means.

  • Even sadder, many people who have no idea what VoIP is, think they absolutely definitely positively must have it.


Every day, we get calls from people who want to buy a VoIP phone system (or an IP or SIP phone system).


When we ask why, these are the typical responses:


  • Donald Trump has one.

  • I heard it's the best.

  • I heard it's the latest.

  • My neighbor/college roommate/largest competitor just got one.

  • I read about it somewhere.

  • Someone at my cable TV company (or Vonage) said I need one.

  • I think it's cheaper.

  • I don't know.


The last answer is the most common.

Most people who think they need a VoIP (or IP or SIP) phone system don't need one.

That's because most people who get VoIP phone service can use an ordinary analog or digital phone system. They will work just fine with VoIP service. Most people use VoIP service just as a source of dial tone.

There are several reasons to get a VoIP/IP phone systems, but the MAIN REASON is to tie people together who work in different places (and not just different floors in the same building).

The main reason to get a SIP trunk is to save money, and/or to connect to hosted/virtual/cloud phone service.

If that doesn't describe your situation, a non-VoIP/IP/SIP system should be just fine.

However, if a VoIP system, or a SIP phone, is right for you, we'll be glad to help you get the right one.

evolution & revolution

​When AbleComm started selling electromechanical phone systems in 1977, the phones had cords as thick as a thumb, holding 50 individual wires. The most advanced feature was intercom.

The first major change was the shift to electronic phone systems in the 1980s. Phones worked with just four, six or eight wires, in a cord as thin as a pencil. LEDs replaced bulbs that burned out; and we got speed dialing, Caller ID, voicemail and more.

In the 1990s, the world went digital. Phones used just two wires (or even no wires at all), and we got still more features, like eight-party conference calls and integrated messaging.

Now we're going through the biggest change of all: the move to phone systems that use the Internet Protocol. IP is a technical standard that allows voices, pictures, movies and music to be converted into "packets" of data (ones and zeroes), that can instantly be sent a few feet away over a local computer network, or many miles away, over the Internet.


IP stands for Internet Protocol.

A protocol is a set of guidelines or rules for use in various circumstances. The term is used in etiquette, international relations, technology and other fields. In computing, a protocol is a standard that controls or enables connection, communication and data transfer between two devices. Protocols may be implemented by hardware, software or both. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is used to make web pages, like this one, visible with a web browser. SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is used to send email. POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is used to download email.

IP can be used to carry data, video, music, games, faxes and, of course, voice phone calls.


VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol.

Voice over Internet Protocol (also called VoIP, IP Telephony, Internet Telephony, Broadband Telephony, Broadband Phone, and Voice over Broadband) is the routing of voice conversations over the Internet or through another IP-based network.

■VoIP phone service works by taking a voice and converting it into digital data packets that are routed over a network, much like e-mail.
■Originally, VoIP calls were made only between computers, with people wearing headsets or using separate microphones and speakers. Now they can be made between a computer and an ordinary phone, or even between two ordinary phones, or between ordinary phones, or fancy phones and business phone systems.
■VoIP can be used as a substitute for the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (“PSTN”), and it can also be used to connect branches of a company, as a substitute for expensive leased telephone lines.
■In the early days, VoIP was used mostly to save money on international calls, and sounded terrible. Now VoIP is used for all kinds of calls, and can sound as good as -- or even better than -- conventional calls. Unfortunately, even today some international VoIP calls sound terrible, with very bad echo and/or low volume.

When VoIP is used instead of a traditional phone company, most VoIP service providers offer unlimited calling plans where you can call anywhere in the United States and Canada, and talk as long as you like for one low monthly charge. VoIP service providers often give away features such as voicemail and Caller ID that traditional phone companies charge extra for. International calls made with VoIP are inexpensive compared to traditional phone companies, and may even be free.

VoIP can facilitate tasks that may be more difficult or more expensive with traditional telephone networks:

  1. Incoming phone calls can be automatically routed to your VoIP phone, regardless of where you are connected to the network. You can take your VoIP phone with you on a trip, and wherever you connect to the Internet, you can receive incoming calls.

  2. Call center agents using VoIP can work from anywhere a good Internet connection is available. 

  3. With VoIP, you can make and receive local phone calls regardless of their location. For example, if a user has a New York City phone number and is traveling in Europe and someone calls the phone number, it will ring in Europe. Conversely, if a call is made from Europe to New York City, it will be treated as a local call. (There must be a connection to the Internet to make it work.)

  4. Specialized mobile VoIP services enable people to use VoIP-based Instant Message services like Skype, MSN and GoogleTalk from cellphones.

  5. VoIP phones can integrate with other services available over the Internet, including video conversations, message or data file exchange in parallel with the conversation, audio conferencing, managing address books, etc.


A VoIP phone (or system) can allow calls to be made over the public Internet or a company's or organization's private IP network. VoIP phones use protocols such as SIP (below) or proprietary protocols such as Skype's.

VoIP phone calls can be made using a computer ("softphone") or phones that are similar to common office phones. You can also use an ordinary analog corded or cordless phone connected to an analog telephone adapter (ATA).

When VoIP is used instead of a traditional phone company, most providers offer unlimited calling plans where you can call anywhere in the United States and Canada, and talk as long as you like for one low monthly charge. VoIP service providers often give away features such as voicemail and Caller ID that traditional phone companies charge extra for. International calls made with VoIP are inexpensive compared to traditional phone companies, and may even be free.

Almost any phone or phone system can use VoIP to make and receive calls. A VoIP circuit would connect just like any other source of dial tone.

Some "IP phone systems" use VoIP to connect multiple locations to form a unified phone system that can cover an office park or span thousands of miles. The remote phones may be either conventional phones if a "KSU" is installed at the remote location, or SIP phones (see below) connected directly to a data network or "SIP trunk."

While VoIP is impressive technology, and may eventually revolutionize telecommunications, the term is also a marketing buzzword, much like “solid state” and “digital” were in previous eras.




  • At some time in the 21st century, everyone in the world may be using VoIP.

  • Or maybe people will use a newer technology, or mental telepathy, or texting only, or will write letters with quills on parchment scrolls.

  • Or maybe ISDN will finally catch on. Or maybe folks will be so depressed, or so busy with Nintendo on 3D HDTV, that they will simply refuse to communicate.

  • VoIP may radically change the way you live and do business, or it may be totally useless to you.


Right now, there are two main reasons to use VoIP, and neither of them may apply to you:

  1. To tie together multiple locations of a business, or to allow someone who works outside the office to be connected to the office phone system, and have easy access to all of the phone lines and phone system features. For this, you will need a VoIP phone system, or a phone system that can be updated for VoIP use.

  2. To connect to a VoIP service provider to make inexpensive phone calls. In this case, VoIP is just another source of dial tone, and DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT. For the least expensive service (i.e., under $10 per month) you may need a special "SIP phone" and "SIP trunk" service.

SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol. It is a signaling protocol used for controlling communication "sessions" such as phone calls, instant messaging, online games or video transmissions that use Internet Protocol ("IP"). When used with voice conversations, the result is VoIP. SIP provides the necessary signaling for starting, modifying and ending communications sessions.

SIP operates similar to some other protocols like HTTP (HyperText Transport Protocol, used for web pages, and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, used for email). It provides signaling by sending small messages, consisting of a "header" and a "body."

SIP Functions include:

  • Name Translation and User Location -- it translates an address into a name so a phone call can reach the desired person at any location.

  • Call participant management -- a SIP user can make or break connections to others during a call, and to transfer and hold calls.

  • Call feature changes -- a SIP user can change a call’s characteristics during a call, such as enabling or disabling video.

  • Phone availability -- is a phone connected to the network or not, is it available to receive calls or not, etc.? With SIP, a busy signal doesn't necessarily mean a phone is in use.


You can purchase "SIP trunks" from many providers including cable TV companies and SIP specialists (sometimes called "carriers"), at varying prices. The plans may include local service only, coverage of the entire United States, USA plus Canada, etc.


SIP service generally provides "number portability" and may be less expensive than traditional phone service and offer a huge list of standard and optional features. SIP trunk service may include a specific number of "sessions" (equivalent to the number of simultaneous conversations that can be handled), or sessions limited by available bandwidth. With some companies, you pay per minute, as with old-fashioned phone service.

With SIP service, your phone or phone system will no longer be connected directly to the old-fashioned Public Switched Telephone Network ("PSTN"). Instead, you will be connected via the Internet to a SIP "softswitch" owned by the SIP service provider, often called an ITSP, Internet Telephone (or Telephony) Service Provider. The following diagram is from Cablevision, the company that AbleComm uses. We modified it a little.


In the earliest days of telecommunications, local phone companies had "central office exchanges" with manually operated "switchboards" used to connect calls. Later the equipment was mechanized and came to be called a "central office switch." A softswitch (i.e., "software switch") is software installed in a general-purpose computer system and is the 21st-century replacement for the physical switch.

With SIP service, when you dial a call, you instantly connect to a softswitch. It decides if your call is headed to a PSTN phone number or to another SIP phone or phone system. If your call is bound for a SIP phone or system, it is sent via the Internet. If you are calling a phone connected to the PSTN, your voice will probably be carried by a combination of Internet and PSTN circuits.

Because a SIP trunk can actually handle several calls at one time, and a softswitch can cost much less and require much less space and power than a traditional digital or electronic switch, SIP service can be much less costly than traditional phone service.

Here are some of the main reasons to use SIP trunks:

  1. You need to unite people in multiple locations.

  2. You have many simultaneous calls.

  3. You have been using or are considering "T1" service.

  4. You have or want DID (Direct Inward Dialing) service, where an "artificial" phone number rings at a particular person's phone or reaches that person's voice mailbox.

  5. You want to lower the cost of long distance calls.

  6. You want really good "HD" voice quality. (This requires HD SIP phones on both ends of the conversation, and an excellent Internet connection.


SIP is pronounced like sip, but IP is pronounced like eye-pee.

There are several general classes of VoIP phone systems.


A "pure IP" phone system (such as the IPitomy line) uses only IP phones, and connects to SIP trunks.

A "hybrid IP" phone system (such as the NEC SL1100) can use IP phones and SIP phones, and traditional analog and digital phones. It can connect to the outside world with SIP trunks, POTS (plain old telephone service) or VoIP phone service. It can communicate with remote phones using either SIP trunks or ordinary Internet connections. Some hybrid systems can use general-purpose SIP phones, but some use only the manufacturer's proprietary phones.


With a  "hosted," "virtual" or "cloud" system, the expensive equipment is owned, operated and protected by a service provider, possibly thousands of miles from you. It may use proprietary phones, soft phones, or open-source SIP phones such as the Panasonic KX-TGP550.