Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), also called IP telephony, is a methodology and group of technologies for the delivery of voice communications and multimedia sessions over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as the Internet. The terms Internet telephony, broadband telephony, and broadband phone service specifically refer to the provisioning of communications services (voice, fax, SMS, voice-messaging) over the public Internet, rather than via the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
The steps and principles involved in originating VoIP telephone calls are similar to traditional digital telephony and involve signalling, channel setup, digitization of the analogue voice signals, and encoding. Instead of being transmitted over a circuit-switched network, the digital information is packetized, and transmission occurs as IP packets over a packet-switched network. They transport media streams using special media delivery protocols that encode audio and video with audio codecs, and video codecs. Various codecs exist that optimize the media stream based on application requirements and network bandwidth; some implementations rely on narrowband and compressed speech, while others support high fidelity stereo codecs. Some popular codecs include μ-law and A-law versions of G.711, G.722, an open source voice codec known as iLBC, a codec that uses only 8 kbit/s each way called G.729, and many others.
Early providers of voice-over-IP services offered business models and technical solutions that mirrored the architecture of the legacy telephone network. Second-generation providers, such as Skype, built closed networks for private user bases, offering the benefit of free calls and convenience while potentially charging for access to other communication networks, such as the PSTN. This limited the freedom of users to mix-and-match third-party hardware and software. Third-generation providers, such as Google Talk, adopted the concept of federated VoIP—which is a departure from the architecture of the legacy networks. These solutions typically allow dynamic interconnection between users on any two domains on the Internet when a user wishes to place a call.
In addition to VoIP phones, VoIP is also available on many personal computers and other Internet access devices. Calls and SMS text messages may be sent over mobile data or Wi-Fi. VoIP allows modern communications technologies (including telephones, smartphones, voice and video conferencing, email, and presence detection) to be consolidated using a single unified communications system.