Today’s Voice over IP phones have features that your landline telephone and cable company can’t match, and at prices that are much lower than traditional offerings. Features that are expensive add-ons come standard for nearly all VoIP providers, and VoIP has features that you simply can’t have with traditional telephones. This step-by-step guide will show you what you need to know about VoIP, and how to pick a VoIP provider that is best for you.

Step 1: Learn about VoIP in general

Because VoIP has so many features you may not have ever heard of, you first have to go to providers’ web sites and review sites like GetVoIP to familiarize yourself with some of the calling features that VoIP providers offer. Some examples include: 3-way calling; simultaneous ringing of secondary phone; N11 features; and most importantly, the online control panel, which you can use to listen to your voicemails while away from the phone, activate/deactivate calling features, and with some providers, even make phone calls. You can also learn about the low calling rates, both long distance and internationally, that you can get through VoIP.

Step 2: Check your current monthly phone bill

You might be getting a bundled deal, or you might have your phone independently from your cable or satellite provider. In some cases, you might even be getting long distance from a different provider than your local calls. Take a few minutes to sort through what you are currently paying for, so you won’t be caught off guard when you switch. Again, your total price will be lower, and you’ll have different features, but you might want to know if your other bills will go up slightly.

When looking through your phone bills, look for extra charges, fees, and taxes. Phone companies might have a low base price, but charge extra for calling features like call waiting, caller ID, and Voice Mail. VoIP providers will never charge for those features. Here’s a bit of good news: VoIP taxes are lower than cellular phone taxes because VoIP is considered information service. VoIP must charge for certain other fees, like paying for 911.

Step 3: Make sure that you have enough bandwidth to support VoIP

Perform a VoIP speed test to determine if your connection is fast enough to support VoIP connectivity. You also have to make sure that you have an internet plan that offers large amounts of bandwidth, preferably unlimited. If you are watching streaming content on your TV, you want to make sure your internet can handle VoIP without suffering from a loss of quality or a dropped call.

The minimum recommended speed for VoIP is 90 Kbps upload speed for the highest quality sound. But some providers have a “bandwidth saver” option that only requires 24 Kbps. You can find out if your provider has this by looking up their features. If they have the bandwidth saver option, you’ll be able to use VoIP with a lower speed internet connection. The sound quality of lower bandwidth will be about the same as a regular telephone call.

Step 4: Learn what kind of equipment you will need.

With VoIP, your calls go through the internet rather than through telephone wires. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to hook your existing phone to the internet. You can get an analog telephone adaptor, which adapts your phone to plug into the router or cable modem. VoIP providers encourage you to put the ATA between the modem and the router for best sound quality. Many residential VoIP providers will give you a free lease on an ATA. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy one on your favorite retailer. A few providers will charge a lot for the ATA, but give you nearly free phone service for as long as you own the device. Many VoIP providers have an app for your Android or iOS device. Different providers; apps have different functionality. Some enable you to access your online portal, which you can use to activate or deactivate features and check your voicemail, with others you can make actual phone calls.

The hardware you’ll need to use VoIP may be sophisticated inside, but VoIP equipment is always easy for the user to understand. If you’re technically savvy enough to set up your computer’s internet connection, then you’ll be able to set up VoIP.

Step 6: Find out the initial and ongoing costs of VoIP by provider

As mentioned before, some providers offer ATAs, and others do not. Some charge an activation fee, others waive it. The same can be said for porting your existing phone number. Some charge for a second line, many do not. Some providers will offer a discount if you pre-pay, with a contract, or if you upgrade to a higher level of service. Find out the initial costs of switching your phone service. The ongoing costs of VoIP are almost certainly lower than traditional telephone costs. It’s very helpful if you look at the costs of VoIP over the course of one or two years, rather than the first two months.

When it comes to each individual provider, remember that some charge by the minute, and others charge by the month. If you’re going to make international calls, that’s also something to consider. Calls within a provider’s network are free, so if you have an international friend or family member, it won’t hurt to discuss both of you making the switch at the same time.

Step 7: Find out if your alarm system and 911 will be affected

Some home alarm systems are hooked up to the phone line. Be sure to check that your home alarm system will be able to work with VoIP. VoIP providers charge a fee to give you access to 911. When you do get your VoIP system, be sure to set up your address accurately.

As it stands now, VoIP is an unreliable companion to security monitoring alarms. That may affect your decision to go with VoIP or to stick with traditional telephones. But while VoIP may have troubles with alarm systems, the alarm systems companies have many options, including cellular-based alarms, and internet-based monitoring, that can keep you safe.

Step 8: Find out about customer service and service outages

It’s always a good idea to find out what can go wrong before it does. To get an idea of a VoIP provider’s reliability and customer service, check their Twitter feed. By following a VoIP provider’s Twitter information, you can see if there are constant service outages, and how quickly they respond to customer complaints. Provider web sites list how to get in contact with them should any customer service issues arise. The most common way that VoIP providers give technical support is through email ticketing and through online chat.

VoIP review pages like ours will also report on service outages, and comment on how well the provider is responding. In one case, the marketing arm of the company had no idea that there was a service outage, so it kept on hyping up the service, making them look a little tone-deaf. In another case, the provider was hacked by a serious attack from sophisticated hackers, and responded with all the resources they had to make sure service stayed up, even as they continued to be attacked.

Step 9: Know the steps of number porting

If you’re porting your number, don’t cancel your existing service yet! Your new provider will do most of the work for you, although you may be required to fax a permission form to complete the port. The process can take less than one business day, according to FCC rules. Some providers charge for number porting to offset their own costs, others waive the fee; some providers will waive the fee. A provider is more likely to waive the fee if you are going with a more expensive service. It never hurts to just ask if they can waive the fee for you.

Of course, some people like to get a new local number. With VoIP, you can select a new number from a pool of numbers at the same time you order your service. With VoIP, every call is a local call, so you can get a local area code, or get a number from most any area code you choose.

Step 10: Learn the control panel and how to use all the special “tricks” that VoIP can do

Familiarize yourself with calling features and how to control them using the online portal. The portal is also where you enter information for E911. You can also check your calling logs, block telemarketers, and check your porting status.

There are lots of neat features of VoIP that you can learn. You can take your ATA with you on the road. Depending on your provider, you may be able to initiate calls using your computer. You can have your cell phone or another phone ring when someone calls your VoIP number. You may be able to program your favorite numbers and “speed dial” them by pressing one or two digits, rather than the entire number. With VoIP, you can have 7, 10, or 11 digit dialing, meaning you may not have to dial “1” or the area code. There are a number of tricks to save your fingers some trouble.

And there you have it. A beginning-to-end, 10 step guide, to making the transition from the landline phone service to VoIP. With VoIP, you will be able to take advantage of new calling features you may not have even known existed, at a price that’s quite likely lower than what you’re paying for now.