VoIP Phones, USB Phones, and ATAs

There are many different kinds of VoIP products on the market. This page will try to provide an overview of some of the various kinds of consumer products. It will not attempt to discuss any of the enterprise or carrier VoIP products.

The first type of device is called the Analog Terminal Adapter (or ATA). These devices allow one to connect a regular old POTS phone (like the ones used for the past 100 years) to a VoIP network. Essentially, they are "single line" gateway devices that communicate using some kind of VoIP protocol on one side, but offer a phone jack on the other. They are commonly used by service providers like Vonage in order to allow people to get the benefits of VoIP calls without having to purchase new phones. It is possible with most ATAs to plug them into the phone jack in one's home and then use any phone in the house that is also connected to the internal phone wiring. (Do be careful to disconnect your home from the telephone company, else the ATA and the phone company will send power through the same wiring. That could result in causing damage to your phones, the ATA, or even the PSTN service provider's equipment.)

Another type of VoIP device is the USB Phone. USB phones and USB headsets are probably the most interesting class of devices, because they allow one to use a computer to make phone calls. These devices have absolutely no connection to the PSTN or old telephones of yesterday. If you are a user of Skype or other kind of VoIP service enabled strictly through your computer, you really need to buy a USB phone or headset to get the most out of the service. For more information, read the article "What are USB phones?".

A third category of device is the IP phone. These devices often look like traditional phones, but actually connect directly into the network and provide voice or video services. IP phones are extremely popular in enterprise networks, but are starting to gain traction in the consumer space.

Lastly, there are software VoIP clients called "soft phones". Most people are familiar with these. Examples include Skype, Spranto, Facetime, and Counterpath's (formerly XTen) clients. We mentioned these in passing above, but it's important to mention these without the association with USB phones, since soft clients do not require any special hardware. Users might use a USB phone with them, or they might simply use the computer speakers and microphone or even a headset.

There are a number of retailers that sell these various devices, many of whom sell though Amazon.