Voice over Internet Protocol (also voice over IP, VoIP or 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 signaling, channel setup, digitization of the analog voice signals, and encoding. Instead of being transmitted over a circuit-switched network; however, the digital information is packetized, and transmission occurs as IP packets over a packet-switched network. They transport audio 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 only uses 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.
VoIP is variously pronounced as an initialism, V-O-I-P, or as an acronym, usually /ˈvɔjp/ (voyp), as in voice, but pronunciation in full words, voice over Internet Protocol, and voice over IP, are common.
The H.323 protocol was one of the first VoIP protocols that found widespread implementation for long-distance traffic, as well as local area network services. However, since the development of newer, less complex protocols such as MGCP and SIP, H.323 deployments are increasingly limited to carrying existing long-haul network traffic.
A major development that started in 2004 was the introduction of mass-market VoIP services that utilize existing broadband Internet access, by which subscribers place and receive telephone calls in much the same manner as they would via the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Full-service VoIP phone companies provide inbound and outbound service with direct inbound dialing. Many offer unlimited domestic calling for a flat monthly subscription fee. This sometimes includes international calls to certain countries. Phone calls between subscribers of the same provider are usually free when flat-fee service is not available. A VoIP phone is necessary to connect to a VoIP service provider. This can be implemented in several ways:
- Dedicated VoIP phones connect directly to the IP network using technologies such as wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi. They are typically designed in the style of traditional digital business telephones.
- An analog telephone adapter is a device that connects to the network and implements the electronics and firmware to operate a conventional analog telephone attached through a modular phone jack. Some residential Internet gateways and cablemodems have this function built in.
- A softphone is application software installed on a networked computer that is equipped with a microphone and speaker, or headset. The application typically presents a dial pad and display field to the user to operate the application by mouse clicks or keyboard input.
PSTN and mobile network providers
It is becoming increasingly common for telecommunications providers to use VoIP telephony over dedicated and public IP networks to connect switching centers and to interconnect with other telephony network providers; this is often referred to as "IP backhaul".
Because of the bandwidth efficiency and low costs that VoIP technology can provide, businesses are migrating from traditional copper-wire telephone systems to VoIP systems to reduce their monthly phone costs. In 2008, 80% of all new Private branch exchange (PBX) lines installed internationally were VoIP.
VoIP solutions aimed at businesses have evolved into unified communications services that treat all communications—phone calls, faxes, voice mail, e-mail, Web conferences, and more—as discrete units that can all be delivered via any means and to any handset, including cellphones. Two kinds of competitors are competing in this space: one set is focused on VoIP for medium to large enterprises, while another is targeting the small-to-medium business (SMB) market.
VoIP allows both voice and data communications to be run over a single network, which can significantly reduce infrastructure costs.
The prices of extensions on VoIP are lower than for PBX and key systems. VoIP switches may run on commodity hardware, such as personal computers. Rather than closed architectures, these devices rely on standard interfaces.
VoIP devices have simple, intuitive user interfaces, so users can often make simple system configuration changes. Dual-mode phones enable users to continue their conversations as they move between an outside cellular service and an internal Wi-Fi network, so that it is no longer necessary to carry both a desktop phone and a cell phone. Maintenance becomes simpler as there are fewer devices to oversee.
Skype, which originally marketed itself as a service among friends, has begun to cater to businesses, providing free-of-charge connections between any users on the Skype network and connecting to and from ordinary PSTN telephones for a charge.
In the United States the Social Security Administration (SSA) is converting its field offices of 63,000 workers from traditional phone installations to a VoIP infrastructure carried over its existing data network.
Quality of service
Communication on the IP network is perceived as less reliable in contrast to the circuit-switched public telephone network because it does not provide a network-based mechanism to ensure that data packets are not lost, and are delivered in sequential order. It is a best-effort network without fundamental Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees. Voice, and all other data, travels in packets over IP networks with fixed maximum capacity. This system may be more prone to congestion and DoS attacks than traditional circuit switched systems; a circuit switched system of insufficient capacity will refuse new connections while carrying the remainder without impairment, while the quality of real-time data such as telephone conversations on packet-switched networks degrades dramatically. Therefore, VoIP implementations may face problems with latency, packet loss, and jitter.
By default, network routers handle traffic on a first-come, first-served basis. Fixed delays cannot be controlled as they are caused by the physical distance the packets travel. They are especially problematic when satellite circuits are involved because of the long distance to a geostationary satellite and back; delays of 400–600 ms are typical. Latency can be minimized by marking voice packets as being delay-sensitive with QoS methods such as DiffServ.
Network routers on high volume traffic links may introduce latency that exceeds permissible thresholds for VoIP. When the load on a link grows so quickly that its switches experience queue overflows, congestion results and data packets are lost. This signals a transport protocol like TCP to reduce its transmission rate to alleviate the congestion. But VoIP usually uses UDP not TCP because recovering from congestion through retransmission usually entails too much latency. So QoS mechanisms can avoid the undesirable loss of VoIP packets by immediately transmitting them ahead of any queued bulk traffic on the same link, even when that bulk traffic queue is overflowing.
VoIP endpoints usually have to wait for completion of transmission of previous packets before new data may be sent. Although it is possible to preempt (abort) a less important packet in mid-transmission, this is not commonly done, especially on high-speed links where transmission times are short even for maximum-sized packets. An alternative to preemption on slower links, such as dialup and digital subscriber line (DSL), is to reduce the maximum transmission time by reducing the maximum transmission unit. But every packet must contain protocol headers, so this increases relative header overhead on every link traversed, not just the bottleneck (usually Internet access) link.
The receiver must resequence IP packets that arrive out of order and recover gracefully when packets arrive too late or not at all. Jitter results from the rapid and random (i.e. unpredictable) changes in queue lengths along a given Internet path due to competition from other users for the same transmission links. VoIP receivers counter jitter by storing incoming packets briefly in a "de-jitter" or "playout" buffer, deliberately increasing latency to improve the chance that each packet will be on hand when it is time for the voice engine to play it. The added delay is thus a compromise between excessive latency and excessive dropout, i.e. momentary audio interruptions.
Although jitter is a random variable, it is the sum of several other random variables that are at least somewhat independent: the individual queuing delays of the routers along the Internet path in question. Thus according to the central limit theorem, we can model jitter as a gaussian random variable. This suggests continually estimating the mean delay and its standard deviation and setting the playout delay so that only packets delayed more than several standard deviations above the mean will arrive too late to be useful. In practice, however, the variance in latency of many Internet paths is dominated by a small number (often one) of relatively slow and congested "bottleneck" links. Most Internet backbone links are now so fast (e.g. 10 Gbit/s) that their delays are dominated by the transmission medium (e.g. optical fiber) and the routers driving them do not have enough buffering for queuing delays to be significant.
It has been suggested to rely on the packetized nature of media in VoIP communications and transmit the stream of packets from the source phone to the destination phone simultaneously across different routes (multi-path routing). In such a way, temporary failures have less impact on the communication quality. In capillary routing it has been suggested to use at the packet level Fountain codes or particularly raptor codes for transmitting extra redundant packets making the communication more reliable.
A number of protocols have been defined to support the reporting of quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) for VoIP calls. These include RTCP Extended Report (RFC 3611), SIP RTCP Summary Reports, H.460.9 Annex B (for H.323), H.248.30 and MGCP extensions. The RFC 3611 VoIP Metrics block is generated by an IP phone or gateway during a live call and contains information on packet loss rate, packet discard rate (because of jitter), packet loss/discard burst metrics (burst length/density, gap length/density), network delay, end system delay, signal / noise / echo level, Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) and R factors and configuration information related to the jitter buffer.
RFC 3611 VoIP metrics reports are exchanged between IP endpoints on an occasional basis during a call, and an end of call message sent via SIP RTCP Summary Report or one of the other signaling protocol extensions. RFC 3611 VoIP metrics reports are intended to support real time feedback related to QoS problems, the exchange of information between the endpoints for improved call quality calculation and a variety of other applications.
Rural areas in particular are greatly hindered in their ability to choose a VoIP system over PBX. This is generally down to the poor access to superfast broadband in rural country areas. With the release of 4G data, there is a potential for corporate users based outside of populated areas to switch their internet connection to 4G data, which is comparatively as fast as a regular superfast broadband connection. This greatly enhances the overall quality and user experience of a VoIP system in these areas.
DSL and ATM
DSL modems provide Ethernet (or Ethernet over USB) connections to local equipment, but inside they are actually Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) modems. They use ATM Adaptation Layer 5 (AAL5) to segment each Ethernet packet into a series of 53-byte ATM cells for transmission, reassembling them back into Ethernet frames at the receiving end. A virtual circuit identifier (VCI) is part of the 5-byte header on every ATM cell, so the transmitter can multiplex the active virtual circuits (VCs) in any arbitrary order. Cells from the same VC are always sent sequentially.
However, a majority of DSL providers use only one VC for each customer, even those with bundled VoIP service. Every Ethernet frame must be completely transmitted before another can begin. If a second VC were established, given high priority and reserved for VoIP, then a low priority data packet could be suspended in mid-transmission and a VoIP packet sent right away on the high priority VC. Then the link would pick up the low priority VC where it left off. Because ATM links are multiplexed on a cell-by-cell basis, a high priority packet would have to wait at most 53 byte times to begin transmission. There would be no need to reduce the interface MTU and accept the resulting increase in higher layer protocol overhead, and no need to abort a low priority packet and resend it later.
ATM has substantial header overhead: 5/53 = 9.4%, roughly twice the total header overhead of a 1500 byte Ethernet frame. This "ATM tax" is incurred by every DSL user whether or not they take advantage of multiple virtual circuits - and few can.
ATM's potential for latency reduction is greatest on slow links, because worst-case latency decreases with increasing link speed. A full-size (1500 byte) Ethernet frame takes 94 ms to transmit at 128 kbit/s but only 8 ms at 1.5 Mbit/s. If this is the bottleneck link, this latency is probably small enough to ensure good VoIP performance without MTU reductions or multiple ATM VCs. The latest generations of DSL, VDSL and VDSL2, carry Ethernet without intermediate ATM/AAL5 layers, and they generally support IEEE 802.1p priority tagging so that VoIP can be queued ahead of less time-critical traffic.
A number of protocols that deal with the data link layer and physical layer include quality-of-service mechanisms that can be used to ensure that applications like VoIP work well even in congested scenarios. Some examples include:
- IEEE 802.11e is an approved amendment to the IEEE 802.11 standard that defines a set of quality-of-service enhancements for wireless LAN applications through modifications to the Media Access Control (MAC) layer. The standard is considered of critical importance for delay-sensitive applications, such as voice over wireless IP.
- IEEE 802.1p defines 8 different classes of service (including one dedicated to voice) for traffic on layer-2 wired Ethernet.
- The ITU-T G.hn standard, which provides a way to create a high-speed (up to 1 gigabit per second) Local area network (LAN) using existing home wiring (power lines, phone lines and coaxial cables). G.hn provides QoS by means of "Contention-Free Transmission Opportunities" (CFTXOPs) which are allocated to flows (such as a VoIP call) which require QoS and which have negotiated a "contract" with the network controllers.
VoIP performance metrics
The quality of voice transmission is characterized by several metrics that may be monitored by network elements, by the user agent hardware or software. Such metrics include network packet loss, packet jitter, packet latency (delay), post-dial delay, and echo. The metrics are determined by VoIP performance testing and monitoring.
The Media VoIP Gateway connects the digital media stream, so as to complete creating the path for voice as well as data media. It includes the interface for connecting the standard PSTN networks with the ATM and Inter Protocol networks. The Ethernet interfaces are also included in the modern systems, which are specially designed to link calls that are passed via the VoIP.
E.164 is a global FGFnumbering standard for both the PSTN and PLMN. Most VoIP implementations support E.164 to allow calls to be routed to and from VoIP subscribers and the PSTN/PLMN. VoIP implementations can also allow other identification techniques to be used. For example, Skype allows subscribers to choose "Skype names" (usernames) whereas SIP implementations can use URIs similar to email addresses. Often VoIP implementations employ methods of translating non-E.164 identifiers to E.164 numbers and vice versa, such as the Skype-In service provided by Skype and the ENUM service in IMS and SIP.
Echo can also be an issue for PSTN integration. Common causes of echo include impedance mismatches in analog circuitry and acoustic coupling of the transmit and receive signal at the receiving end.
Local number portability (LNP) and Mobile number portability (MNP) also impact VoIP business. In November 2007, the Federal Communications Commission in the United States released an order extending number portability obligations to interconnected VoIP providers and carriers that support VoIP providers. Number portability is a service that allows a subscriber to select a new telephone carrier without requiring a new number to be issued. Typically, it is the responsibility of the former carrier to "map" the old number to the undisclosed number assigned by the new carrier. This is achieved by maintaining a database of numbers. A dialed number is initially received by the original carrier and quickly rerouted to the new carrier. Multiple porting references must be maintained even if the subscriber returns to the original carrier. The FCC mandates carrier compliance with these consumer-protection stipulations.
A voice call originating in the VoIP environment also faces challenges to reach its destination if the number is routed to a mobile phone number on a traditional mobile carrier. VoIP has been identified in the past as a Least Cost Routing (LCR) system, which is based on checking the destination of each telephone call as it is made, and then sending the call via the network that will cost the customer the least. This rating is subject to some debate given the complexity of call routing created by number portability. With GSM number portability now in place, LCR providers can no longer rely on using the network root prefix to determine how to route a call. Instead, they must now determine the actual network of every number before routing the call.
Therefore, VoIP solutions also need to handle MNP when routing a voice call. In countries without a central database, like the UK, it might be necessary to query the GSM network about which home network a mobile phone number belongs to. As the popularity of VoIP increases in the enterprise markets because of least cost routing options, it needs to provide a certain level of reliability when handling calls.
MNP checks are important to assure that this quality of service is met. Handling MNP lookups before routing a call provides some assurance that the voice call will actually work.
A telephone connected to a land line has a direct relationship between a telephone number and a physical location, which is maintained by the telephone company and available to emergency responders via the national emergency response service centers in form of emergency subscriber lists. When an emergency call is received by a center the location is automatically determined from its databases and displayed on the operator console.
In IP telephony, no such direct link between location and communications end point exists. Even a provider having hardware infrastructure, such as a DSL provider, may only know the approximate location of the device, based on the IP address allocated to the network router and the known service address. However, some ISPs do not track the automatic assignment of IP addresses to customer equipment.
IP communication provides for device mobility. For example, a residential broadband connection may be used as a link to a virtual private network of a corporate entity, in which case the IP address being used for customer communications may belong to the enterprise, not being the IP address of the residential ISP. Such off-premises extensions may appear as part of an upstream IP PBX. On mobile devices, e.g., a 3G handset or USB wireless broadband adapter, the IP address has no relationship with any physical location known to the telephony service provider, since a mobile user could be anywhere in a region with network coverage, even roaming via another cellular company.
At the VoIP level, a phone or gateway may identify itself with a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) registrar by its account credentials. In such cases, the Internet telephony service provider (ITSP) only knows that a particular user's equipment is active. Service providers often provide emergency response services by agreement with the user who registers a physical location and agrees that emergency services are only provided to that address if an emergency number is called from the IP device.
Such emergency services are provided by VoIP vendors in the United States by a system called Enhanced 911 (E911), based on the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999. The VoIP E911 emergency-calling system associates a physical address with the calling party's telephone number. All VoIP providers that provide access to the public switched telephone network are required to implement E911, a service for which the subscriber may be charged. VoIP providers may not allow customers to "opt-out" of 911 service."
The VoIP E911 system is based on a static table lookup. Unlike in cellular phones, where the location of an E911 call can be traced using assisted GPS or other methods, the VoIP E911 information is only accurate so long as subscribers, who have the legal responsibility, are diligent in keeping their emergency address information current.
Sending faxes over VoIP networks is sometimes referred to as Fax over IP (FoIP). Transmission of fax documents was problematic in early VoIP implementations, as most voice digitization and compression codecs are optimized for the representation of the human voice and the proper timing of the modem signals cannot be guaranteed in a packet-based, connection-less network. A standards-based solution for reliably delivering fax-over-IP is the T.38 protocol.
The T.38 protocol is designed to compensate for the differences between traditional packet-less communications over analog lines and packet-based transmissions which are the basis for IP communications. The fax machine may be a standard device connected to an analog telephone adapter (ATA), or it may be a software application or dedicated network device operating via an Ethernet interface. Originally, T.38 was designed to use UDP or TCP transmission methods across an IP network. UDP provides near real-time characteristics due to the "no recovery rule" when a UDP packet is lost or an error occurs during transmission.
Some newer high end fax machines have built-in T.38 capabilities which are connected directly to a network switch or router. In T.38 each packet contains a portion of the data stream sent in the previous packet. Two successive packets have to be lost to actually lose data integrity.
Telephones for traditional residential analog service are usually connected directly to telephone company phone lines which provide direct current to power most basic analog handsets independently of locally available electrical power.
IP Phones and VoIP telephone adapters connect to routers or cable modems which typically depend on the availability of mains electricity or locally generated power. Some VoIP service providers use customer premises equipment (e.g., cablemodems) with battery-backed power supplies to assure uninterrupted service for up to several hours in case of local power failures. Such battery-backed devices typically are designed for use with analog handsets.
Some VoIP service providers implement services to route calls to other telephone services of the subscriber, such a cellular phone, in the event that the customer's network device is inaccessible to terminate the call.
The susceptibility of phone service to power failures is a common problem even with traditional analog service in areas where many customers purchase modern telephone units that operate with wireless handsets to a base station, or that have other modern phone features, such as built-in voicemail or phone book features.
The security concerns of VoIP telephone systems are similar to those of any Internet-connected device. This means that hackers who know about these VoIP vulnerabilities can institute denial-of-service attacks, harvest customer data, record conversations and compromise voicemail messages. The quality of internet connection determines the quality of the calls. VoIP phone service also will not work if there is power outage and when the internet connection is down. The 9-1-1 or 112 service provided by VoIP phone service is also different from analog phone which is associated with a fixed address. The emergency center may not be able to determine your location based on your virtual phone number. Compromised VoIP user account or session credentials may enable an attacker to incur substantial charges from third-party services, such as long-distance or international telephone calling.
The technical details of many VoIP protocols create challenges in routing VoIP traffic through firewalls and network address translators, used to interconnect to transit networks or the Internet. Private session border controllers are often employed to enable VoIP calls to and from protected networks. Other methods to traverse NAT devices involve assistive protocols such as STUN and Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE).
Many consumer VoIP solutions do not support encryption of the signaling path or the media, however securing a VoIP phone is conceptually easier to implement than on traditional telephone circuits. A result of the lack of encryption is that it is relatively easy to eavesdrop on VoIP calls when access to the data network is possible. Free open-source solutions, such as Wireshark, facilitate capturing VoIP conversations.
Standards for securing VoIP are available in the Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) and the ZRTP protocol for analog telephony adapters as well as for some softphones. IPsec is available to secure point-to-point VoIP at the transport level by using opportunistic encryption.
Government and military organizations use various security measures to protect VoIP traffic, such as voice over secure IP (VoSIP), secure voice over IP (SVoIP), and secure voice over secure IP (SVoSIP). The distinction lies in whether encryption is applied in the telephone or in the network or both. Secure voice over secure IP is accomplished by encrypting VoIP with protocols such as SRTP or ZRTP. Secure voice over IP is accomplished by using Type 1 encryption on a classified network, like SIPRNet. Public Secure VoIP is also available with free GNU programs and in many popular commercial VoIP programs via libraries such as ZRTP.
Voice over IP protocols and equipment provide caller ID support that is compatible with the facility provided in the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Many VoIP service providers also allow callers to configure arbitrary caller ID information.
Compatibility with traditional analog telephone sets
Most analog telephone adapters do not decode dial pulses generated by rotary dial telephones, supporting only touch-tone signaling, but pulse-to-tone converters are commercially available.
Support for other telephony devices
Some special telephony services, such as those that operate in conjunction with digital video recorders, satellite television receivers, alarm systems, conventional modems over PSTN lines, may be impaired when operated over VoIP services, because of incompatibilities in design.
VoIP has drastically reduced the cost of communication by sharing network infrastructure between data and voice. A single broad-band connection has the ability to transmit more than one telephone call. Secure calls using standardized protocols, such as Secure Real-time Transport Protocol, as most of the facilities of creating a secure telephone connection over traditional phone lines, such as digitizing and digital transmission, are already in place with VoIP. It is only necessary to encrypt and authenticate the existing data stream. Automated software, such as a virtual PBX, may eliminate the need of personnel to greet and switch incoming calls.
Regulatory and legal issues
As the popularity of VoIP grows, governments are becoming more interested in regulating VoIP in a manner similar to PSTN services.
Throughout the developing world, countries where regulation is weak or captured by the dominant operator, restrictions on the use of VoIP are imposed, including in Panama where VoIP is taxed, Guyana where VoIP is prohibited and India where its retail commercial sales is allowed but only for long distance service. In Ethiopia, where the government is nationalising telecommunication service, it is a criminal offence to offer services using VoIP. The country has installed firewalls to prevent international calls being made using VoIP. These measures were taken after the popularity of VoIP reduced the income generated by the state owned telecommunication company.
In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regulates telephony service, including VoIP telephony service. VoIP services operating in Canada are required to provide 9-1-1 emergency service.
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In the European Union, the treatment of VoIP service providers is a decision for each national telecommunications regulator, which must use competition law to define relevant national markets and then determine whether any service provider on those national markets has "significant market power" (and so should be subject to certain obligations). A general distinction is usually made between VoIP services that function over managed networks (via broadband connections) and VoIP services that function over unmanaged networks (essentially, the Internet).
The relevant EU Directive is not clearly drafted concerning obligations which can exist independently of market power (e.g., the obligation to offer access to emergency calls), and it is impossible to say definitively whether VoIP service providers of either type are bound by them. A review of the EU Directive is under way and should be complete by 2007.
Arab states of the Persian Gulf
In the UAE and Oman it is illegal to use any form of VoIP, to the extent that Web sites of Gizmo5 are blocked. Providing or using VoIP services is illegal in Oman. Those who violate the law stand to be fined 50,000 Omani Rial (about 130,317 US dollars) or spend two years in jail or both. In 2009, police in Oman have raided 121 Internet cafes throughout the country and arrested 212 people for using/providing VoIP services.
In India, it is legal to use VoIP, but it is illegal to have VoIP gateways inside India. This effectively means that people who have PCs can use them to make a VoIP call to any number, but if the remote side is a normal phone, the gateway that converts the VoIP call to a POTS call is not permitted by law to be inside India. Foreign based VoIP server services are illegal to use in India.
In the interest of the Access Service Providers and International Long Distance Operators the Internet telephony was permitted to the ISP with restrictions. Internet Telephony is considered to be different service in its scope, nature and kind from real time voice as offered by other Access Service Providers and Long Distance Carriers. Hence the following type of Internet Telephony are permitted in India:
In South Korea, only providers registered with the government are authorized to offer VoIP services. Unlike many VoIP providers, most of whom offer flat rates, Korean VoIP services are generally metered and charged at rates similar to terrestrial calling. Foreign VoIP providers encounter high barriers to government registration. This issue came to a head in 2006 when Internet service providers providing personal Internet services by contract to United States Forces Korea members residing on USFK bases threatened to block off access to VoIP services used by USFK members as an economical way to keep in contact with their families in the United States, on the grounds that the service members' VoIP providers were not registered. A compromise was reached between USFK and Korean telecommunications officials in January 2007, wherein USFK service members arriving in Korea before June 1, 2007, and subscribing to the ISP services provided on base may continue to use their US-based VoIP subscription, but later arrivals must use a Korean-based VoIP provider, which by contract will offer pricing similar to the flat rates offered by US VoIP providers.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission requires all interconnected VoIP service providers to comply with requirements comparable to those for traditional telecommunications service providers. VoIP operators in the US are required to support local number portability; make service accessible to people with disabilities; pay regulatory fees, universal service contributions, and other mandated payments; and enable law enforcement authorities to conduct surveillance pursuant to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
Operators of "Interconnected" VoIP (fully connected to the PSTN) are mandated to provide Enhanced 911 service without special request, provide for customer location updates, clearly disclose any limitations on their E-911 functionality to their consumers, obtain affirmative acknowledgements of these disclosures from all consumers, and 'may not allow their customers to “opt-out” of 911 service.' VoIP operators also receive the benefit of certain US telecommunications regulations, including an entitlement to interconnection and exchange of traffic with incumbent local exchange carriers via wholesale carriers. Providers of "nomadic" VoIP service—those who are unable to determine the location of their users—are exempt from state telecommunications regulation.
Another legal issue that the US Congress is debating concerns changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The issue in question is calls between Americans and foreigners. The National Security Agency (NSA) is not authorized to tap Americans' conversations without a warrant—but the Internet, and specifically VoIP does not draw as clear a line to the location of a caller or a call's recipient as the traditional phone system does. As VoIP's low cost and flexibility convinces more and more organizations to adopt the technology, the surveillance for law enforcement agencies becomes more difficult. VoIP technology has also increased security concerns because VoIP and similar technologies have made it more difficult for the government to determine where a target is physically located when communications are being intercepted, and that creates a whole set of new legal challenges.
The early developments of packet network designs by Paul Baran and other researchers were motivated by a desire for a higher degree of circuit redundancy and network availability in face of infrastructure failures than was possible in the circuit-switched networks in telecommunications in the mid-twentieth century. In 1973, Danny Cohen first demonstrated a form of packet voice as part of a flight simulator application, which operated across the early ARPANET. In the following time span of about two decades, various forms of packet telephony were developed and industry interest groups formed to support the new technologies. Following the termination of the ARPANET project, and expansion of the Internet for commercial traffic, IP telephony became an established area of interest in commercial labs of the major IT concerns, such Microsoft and Intel, and open-source software, such as VocalTec, became available by the mid-1990s. By the late 1990s, the first softswitches became available, and new protocols, such as H.323, the Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP) and the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) gained widespread attention. In the early 2000s, the proliferation of high-bandwidth always-on Internet connections to residential dwellings and businesses, spawned an industry of Internet telephony service providers (ITSPs). The development of open-source telephony software, such as Asterisk PBX, fueled widespread interest and entrepreneurship in voice-over-IP services, applying new Internet technology paradigms, such as cloud services to telephony.
- 1973: Packet voice application by Danny Cohen
- 1974: The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) publishes a paper entitled "A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection".
- 1974: Network Voice Protocol (NVP) tested over ARPANET in August 1974, carrying 16k CVSD encoded voice.
- 1977: Danny Cohen and Jon Postel of the USC Information Sciences Institute, and Vint Cerf of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), agree to separate IP from TCP, and create UDP for carrying real-time traffic.
- 1981: IPv4 is described in RFC 791.
- 1985: The National Science Foundation commissions the creation of NSFNET.
- 1986: Proposals from various standards organizations for Voice over ATM, in addition to commercial packet voice products from companies such as StrataCom
- 1991: First Voice-over-IP application, Speak Freely, is released into the public domain. It was originally written by John Walker and further developed by Brian C. Wiles.
- 1992: The Frame Relay Forum conducts development of standards for Voice over Frame Relay.
- 1994: MTALK, a freeware VoIP application for Linux
- 1995: VocalTec releases the first commercial Internet phone software.
- 1997: Level 3 began development of its first softswitch, a term they coined in 1998.
- 2004: Commercial VoIP service providers proliferate.
- 2007: VOIP device manufacturers and sellers boom in Asia, specifically in the Philippines where many families of overseas workers reside.
- 2011: Raise of WebRTC technology which allows VoIP directly in browsers
- 2015: Trend of using VoIP services in cloud: PBXes and contact centers, it means higher requirements to IP network to achieve good quality of service and reliability