Communication platforms have emerged in their numbers in recent years amid the rollout of high-speed fixed line broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile 4G, along with the rapid adoption of the smartphone – with high-speed connectivity in and out of the home bringing with it a range of services.
Among the various services delivered by applications run over the internet, such as Skype, and services provided directly via internet service providers (ISPs), consumers have a variety of options when it comes to keeping in touch with family and friends.
So much so, that these services – that collectively fall under the banner of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – have emerged as a legitimate alternative to traditional fixed line and mobile communication for many.
So, what are some of the best VoIP services on offer, and what options do you have when it comes to using these services?
High-speed broadband, Wi-Fi and 4G
The emergence of a combination of high-speed internet services has helped fuel VoIP’s popularity. The ongoing rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), along with the concurrent widespread rollout of Wi-Fi access and the growth of 4G mobile, has seen the development of an infrastructure supportive of VoIP next-gen communication services.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) noted in December 2015 that more than 90 per cent of Australians can access 4G mobile networks across the country. Meanwhile, various cities around Australia are rolling out public Wi-Fi in high traffic areas, and the nation’s largest telco, Telstra, has launched its Telstra Air Wi-Fi hotspot network, incorporating network hotspots around the country.
The ACMA last year found that 54 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over used an app to communicate with others online, with 49 per cent sending messages, 28 per cent making voice calls and 25 per cent making video calls. In conjunction with these figures, the ACMA found that almost 80 per cent of adults are accessing the internet via their mobile phone, with 58 per cent going online via tablets, while the number of fixed line telephone connections continued to decline, falling one per cent to 9.08 million services.
The communications landscape is fundamentally changing, with VoIP services allowing Australians to communicate both at home and on the go.
Free VoIP services
A range of free (and a combination of both paid and free) VoIP services have emerged amid the high-speed broadband and mobile connectivity boom and are now well-established in the market.
Referred to as over-the-top (OTT) services – being delivered over the user’s network service, but not directly from their ISP – these services encompass a combination of functions in addition to voice calling, including video calling, along with text and picture messaging. Among some of the bigger and better known services are Skype, Messenger, FaceTime and Viber, which are available via both desktop and mobile devices, across the Windows, Android and iOS platforms.
Such services typically allow users to communicate with each other for free within the application, yet cannot be used to contact mobile and fixed line numbers, and in this regard are limited when compared to the paid VoIP services on offer from ISPs.
However, it should be noted that some free services also offer paid functionality, charging users to make calls to mobile or fixed line numbers and operating in a similar manner to paid VoIP services. It should also be noted that while these services are free, users will need to pay for the broadband used to deliver the services.
Paid VoIP services
A range of ISPs currently provide VoIP plans as an alternative to fixed line telephone plans, with consumers able to use their regular home phone to access these services.
As noted by the ACMA, users of such services are able to contact and be contacted by all other end users connected to a public telecommunications network, while historically, OTT users have only been able to make and receive calls to that same provider’s customer base.
Similar to a traditional fixed-line telephone, the ACMA noted that these plans are bought through a service provider, typically providing hardware (such as a VoIP handset or adapter) and issuing a phone number.
The following is a selection of some of the ISPs offering VoIP plans.
iiNet offers its Netphone VoIP service with its residential NBN, VDSL2, cable and naked DSL plans, and it’s priced at $9.95 per month.
Netphone comes with included calls to other Netphone numbers, along with local and standard national calls, with calls to Australian mobiles 29 cents per minute, and international calls from 5 cents per minute (with call inclusions varying plan by plan).
Dependent on the contract, you can additionally purchase a VoIP international call pack, including all calls to landlines in a top 20 international destinations, for $10 per month, and a VoIP Mobile Call Pack, including all calls to standard Australian landlines and mobiles, for $10 per month.
iiNet’s VoIP plans come with no minimum term, although they are only available when bundled with an iiNet fixed line broadband service, and the broadband service may come with a minimum term.
Netphone works by plugging a standard phone into a VoIP-enabled broadband modem, or for those without a VoIP modem via a VoIP adaptor, ATA, device.
iPrimus ranges a number of Lingo VoIP plans, which can be purchased separately from its broadband plans, and which can be used in conjunction with a plan from another provider. These plans comprise its:
- Lingo Starter plan, priced at $9.95 per month
- Lingo National plan, priced at $19.95 per month
- Lingo Australia plan, priced at $34.95 per month
- Lingo 50 Countries plan, priced at $39.95 per month
Local and national calls are priced at 10 cents per call for the Starter plan (unlimited for the other plans), with calls to iPrimus mobiles costing 12 cents per minute for the Starter and National plans (unlimited for the other plans) and calls to other Australian mobiles costing 26 cents per minute for the Starter and National plans (unlimited for the other plans).
International calls are priced from 3 cents per minute for the Starter, National and Australia plans, while the 50 Countries plan has unlimited calls to standard fixed numbers to 50 countries.
Customers will receive a Lingo ATA Box with their service, costing $99 with no contract, $59 with a six-month contact, and provided for free with a 12 or 24-month contract.
MyNetFone’s monthly VoIP plans comprise its:
- Home Saver plan, priced at $10 per month
- Global Hero plan, priced at $10 per month
- Aussie Hero plan, priced at $20 per month
- All Rounder plan, priced at $30 per month
The Home Saver and Global Hero plans come with unlimited local and national calls, while mobile calls are charged at 20 cents per minute. International calls cost 1.9 cents per minute on the Home Saver plan, but the Global Hero offer provides unlimited international calls to no less than 30 selected countries.
The more expensive Aussie Hero plan comes with unlimited local, national and mobile calls, with a charge of 1.9 cents per minute for international calls. But if it’s unlimited everything you crave, then the All Rounder plan included limitless calls to 70 countries. These plans are all available on no contract terms.
Exetel offers its VoIP service, ExeFone, with all of its broadband plans. Under ExeFone plans, Exetel to Exetel calls are free, local and national calls are charged at 10 cents per call, with Australian mobile calls charged at 20 cents per minute. International call rates vary country from country.
Exetel also offers its:
- ExeFone National plan, with unlimited local and national calls, for $10 a month
- ExeFone Mobile plan, with unlimited local, national and calls to Australian mobiles, for $20 a month
- ExeFone Global plan, with unlimited local, national, mobile calls and top 10 international destinations, for $30 per month
Exetel’s ExeFone plans are available on a month-to-month basis.
Paid vs Free VoIP
For people in the market for a paid VoIP plan, keep in mind that as these services often come with a broadband plan, it may well be worthwhile consolidating your broadband and VoIP needs as one. While you may not be able to rely exclusively on free services, you should certainly explore your options and tailor any paid VoIP plan accordingly.
Certainly, a paid VoIP plan provides further flexibility when used in conjunction with other services, and amid a variety of options, it may well be a case of mixing and matching your various free and paid services.