What Is A VoIP Phone Number?

A Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone number is very similar to any other phone number. In fact, it appears to be identical and it works the same way traditional phone service numbers do. It has an area code and a phone number and is specific to a region of the country, just as plain old telephone service (POTS) numbers are. The only real difference between a POTS number and a VoIP number is in the service provider offering the phone service access.

  • Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)—POTS phones use copper wire networks to transmit phone signals around the world.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—VoIP phones use the Internet to transmit phone calls.

Because POTS and VoIP work differently, there can be considerable difference between the two services and how they operate.

In this article, we will introduce VoIP and talk more about what the differences are between POTS and VoIP service so you can understand what a VoIP phone number is and how they work. We will also talk about some considerations for using VoIP and for getting started.

By the end, you should have a good grasp of how VoIP and POTS systems work and you should understand some of the benefits of using a VoIP system. Elsewhere on our site, we have reviews of VoIP services and additional, detailed information you can use to help you make the right decision for your business phone or personal communications needs.

Article Contents:

  1. POTS vs. VoIP
  2. What is a VoIP Phone Number? How Does it Work?
  3. Additional Considerations

VoIP service has a wide range of amazing features and is usually cheaper than POTS service, so there really is a lot to like. We think you will be just as impressed with VoIP service as we are!

1. POTS vs. VoIP

Going back to the early days of phone service, POTS systems carried phone signals on a legacy network of wiring that travels great distances to enable phone communication. Public networks connect homes, businesses, government institutions and other subscribers to each other through a complex system. In the beginning, phone traffic was routed across these wires and connections were manually made by telephone operators. The first phone book did not use phone numbers, because calling up the operator and asking to be connected to someone else by name was all that was necessary. The advent of long distance calls expanded these capabilities and people began calling other towns, then other states and other countries. Cable was placed underneath the oceans and seas to connect different countries to each other. For particularly important communications, a “direct line” could be placed making contact easier but also sometimes costing a fortune to establish. This is POTS service, and it is the phone service of traditional communications.

Just as POTS service was revolutionary to people over a century ago, VoIP is now transforming the telecommunications industry and enabling vast changes in how people communicate. VoIP works differently from POTS, because it uses the Internet to transmit phone signals. As a result, phone calls can travel over more efficient, cheaper-to-maintain networks. These conversations are no longer transmitted along the public phone networks of legacy phone systems. Instead, they are packaged for Internet travel and routed along the Internet’s most direct traffic routes to reach their destination. VoIP phones can call either POTS or other VoIP systems, so they are very flexible and adaptable. VoIP is vastly more affordable than POTS service, so getting your own VoIP number allows you to save money and accomplish much more than you could with a POTS phone.

2. What is a VoIP Phone Number? How Does it Work?

VoIP numbers look and work exactly the same as POTS numbers. Dialing a VoIP number connects you to a VoIP phone. There are a few differences in how VoIP numbers behave:

  • Area Codes—Ultimately, an area code with VoIP is a bit irrelevant. Because of how VoIP works, you can have pretty much any area code you want, even if you are using the phone in a different place.
  • Devices—Your phone number is not tied to a specific device with VoIP, unlike with POTS service. You can answer calls on a smartphone and then the same day have other calls to that same phone number routed to an office IP phone you use. VoIP calls travel over the Internet and are highly portable thanks to the software VoIP providers offer.

Otherwise, these numbers are indistinguishable from POTS numbers. You can still communicate with cell phone numbers, POTS numbers and VoIP numbers, so the phone number is not really different from how other phone numbers operate. You do not need a large amount of technical knowledge to use a VoIP number, either, because most VoIP systems are plug-and-play and work almost immediately after setting them up. Your vendor can answer your questions if you have more specific concerns or if you encounter problems during implementation.

3. Additional Considerations

If you are considering a VoIP service, then you will need to think about what you need and how you plan to use it. Specific features, costs, minutes and functions can differ tremendously from plan to plan and with each different vendor, so you will need to be very careful to compare your options. Find out what your goals are for VoIP service, then compare plans to make the best decision for you.

Questions to Ask:

  • “Will I need a toll-free number or a specific area code? Do I want to take my number with me?”—Many vendors allow you to choose custom numbers and even pick a different area code. This can be useful if you want to do business in a new area. You may also bring your old number with you, if you prefer.
  • “Do I need to make international calls? Do I need unlimited minutes?”—Minutes can vary in cost, with some plans also offering unlimited minutes or special pricing on international calls. If you want these features, consider the comparative costs and identify a plan that works best for your needs.
  • “Do I need a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plan, or am I going to follow my vendor’s suggestions?”—If you can wait to obtain your phones until after talking with your vendor, then that is often the best choice. BYOD plans are best if you plan to bring an old phone into the plan or if you want to avoid upgrading equipment you already invested in.

As you shop, compare pricing and features. Some vendors are best for businesses and call centers, while others offer plans that are better suited for personal phone use. Plans can become rather complex, with added features, virtual phone extensions and capabilities that large organizations may be interested in.

If you are on the fence about the right plan for you, you may be able to test a plan for a while by signing up for a free trial. Trials can help you find out if you like a service before making a lengthy commitment. If you are willing to commit long-term with a service, one-year plans (and even five-year plans, in some cases) are available that can save you substantially on the costs of services.