Signing Up for VOIP
Just like traditional phone service, VOIP is mainly a subscription—based service, with monthly plans that start at around $15. There are more than a dozen outfits jockeying for your business, including Vonage, Broadvoice, and Sun Rocket. A number of cable companies offer a VOIP option, giving you the convenience of one bill for data, phone, and TV. Some phone companies have their own Internet plans, like AT&T's Call­Vantage. Because competition is hot, many pro­viders offer special perks like free equipment, unlimited long distance, or introductory discounts.

Armed with the right gear and the plan you want, simply sign up online with your credit card, plug your phone into the router, and you'll be gabbing away in minutes.

Beyond Just Phone Calls
Since VOIP works through the Internet, it allows you to do some fun and convenient things that a conventional phone line can't. Take a small VOIP phone with you when you travel, plug it into an Internet connection in your vacation house or hotel, and you can receive calls as if you never left home—even if you're halfway around the world. (Note that if you get VOIP from your cable provider, you will only be able to use it at home.)

For those who are more ambitious about getting the most from the technology, VOIP also allows for video conferencing, in many cases for free, through popular Internet chat programs from AOL, Yahoo!, and Micro­soft. For example, if you and your best friend in Australia are both VOIP—enabled, you can just open your Instant Messenger program, click the name on your contact list, and talk face to face. You'll need a headset or speaker phone plugged into your computer, as well as a network camera to transmit the video.

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