A guide to VoIP, the technology that lets you make voice calls over the internet

landline phone internet router and laptop
VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a type of internet-connected phone system.

  • VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a system for transmitting voice calls over the internet.
  • IP phones use an internet connection rather than phone lines for transmission, but otherwise work the same as traditional phones, including using area codes and phone numbers.
  • VoIP can be substantially less expensive and more secure than traditional landline phones.
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VoIP is shorthand for a telecommunication technology called Voice over Internet Protocol, and it’s a modern alternative to traditional phones. For a century or so, landline telephone systems have carried voice data over a network called the public switched telephone network (PTSN). VoIP, on the other hand, allows voice calls to be transmitted over the internet. Your VoIP phone is simply a node on the internet with an IP address, much like your desktop computer.

Although VoIP phones work over the internet, they behave almost exactly the same as traditional landline phones – they use area codes and phone numbers, not usernames or passcodes.

It’s also worth noting that even though your smartphone is an internet device and uses the cellular network to connect to the internet, phone calls you make with your voice plan are not VoIP – instead, cellular calls are transmitted using the voice cellular network. This is why most plans track voice and internet data usage separately.

How VoIP works

To use Voice over IP, you generally need a dedicated VoIP desktop phone (usually called an IP phone) which, instead of plugging into a phone jack, connects to the internet – usually by plugging into an internet router with an Ethernet cable or another form of high-speed internet connection.

To enable the phone, you need to subscribe to a service plan with a VoIP service provider. Generally, businesses have VoIP accounts which are substantially less expensive than traditional landline phone plans.

woman using landline phone in office
VoIP phones can be used in office spaces in place of landlines.

When you dial a phone number using a VoIP phone, the phone sends packets of data to the internet, which is transmitted much like any other kind of internet data. The VoIP service provider sends the data from your phone to the phone that was dialed, where the data arrived and is turned back into audio information.

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How to set up and use Google Hangouts, Google’s free phone call and video chat service, on desktop or mobile

  • Once you figure out how to set up a Google Hangout, you can easily use it to connect with colleagues, clients, or friends and family over the computer.
  • You can use Google Hangouts for voice calls, video calls, or text-based chat, and you can connect with multiple people at the same time.
  • When you create a group in Google Hangouts, you can quickly reconnect with the same people later when you click on the group again.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

There are so many different ways to communicate with people these days, it can be hard to decide which is the best choice at hand.

Should you do a video call to liaise with your coworker who’s based in another city? Should you text your friend to confirm plans or just go ahead and call? Or should you get all your buddies on one video conference to make sure you’re all still on the same page for the weekend outing details?

Why choose a phone call, video call, or text message when you can do all three using Google Hangouts? Google Hangouts makes it easy to connect with people via talk, text, or video, and the app allows you to create groups that can be connected again and again.

It also stores your past chats so you can pick up the text conversation any time and can refer back to past messages as convenient.

Google Hangouts can even save you money, allowing you to make phone or video calls via Wi-Fi instead of cutting into your phone plan.

Here’s how to set it up and use it on your computer or mobile device.

How to set up and use Google Hangouts on a computer

1. Log into your Google account, then type: “hangouts.google.com” into the browser bar at the top of the screen.

2. Click through the intro screen until you land on your Hangouts homepage, which will have a list of any ongoing chats on the left and will offer you three options in the center of the page, “Video Call,” “Phone Call,” and “Message.”

Screen Shot 2019 06 13 at 12.37.23 PM
When logging into Hangouts on your computer, you’ll be immediately presented with options for making a call or message.

3. Click the option you want, then type the phone number to call, or the contact you want to video chat or message into the search bar that pops up on the top left corner of the screen (if you are reaching out to someone who is not yet a contact, type in their email address).

4. If you want to message several people at once, instead of entering the contact to text, click “New group” and then enter a series of contact names, emails, or phone numbers.

How to set up and use Google Hangouts on mobile

1. Download the Google Hangouts app and open it on your phone.

2. Allow the app to access your Google account.

3. Tap the “+” symbol in the green circle at the bottom right corner of the screen.

Tap the plus button to start a new call or chat.

4. Type in contact you wish to reach, or hit “New group” and enter multiple people.

5. Start a text chat, or hit the camera icon for a video call, or the phone icon for a phone call.

To start a phone call or video call from a text chat, tap the icons at the top of the screen.

And just like that, you’ll be (Google) hanging out.

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