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Introduction

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VoIP is nothing new. Large multinational corporations have been saving money on inter-office and international calls with this technology for years, but it’s only recently that it’s begun to make serious inroads into the lives of everyday people.

We are all used to standard telephone systems, with dedicated wiring specifically for telephone signals and charged per minute of usage. VoIP telephones however, are designed to communicate over data links like a LAN or the Internet. The benefit of this is that the bandwidth involved in sending an essentially low-quality sound transmission is often minimal, so this can work out significantly cheaper than a phone line, or in many cases free.

With broadband Internet connections commonplace in the UK, people and companies are sitting up and listening, and then speaking and then listening again. Providers such as the Wanadoo, Bulldog and NTL are all offering services for home users whereby they can use their Internet connection as an extra phone line (or two, or three, or ten).

Companies such as Telappliant are offering a way of getting these extra lines as and when they’re needed, without needing an engineer to install them. And if you’re not happy with the service you receive, you simply vote with your feet as easily as swapping to a new dialup ISP. These ITSP’s basically connect your IP telephone system to the traditional telephone system for a small fee. Some small businesses will want a complete PBX telephone system, which can be had for a few hundred pounds and up, whilst others will use a virtual PBX system in which an ITSP provides that functionality without the need for complex server systems.

So, with the market poised to offer home and small business users a whole new way of communicating that has a whole host of advantages aside from price, we thought it was time for a roundup of hardware telephones aimed at the SOHO user. Just to be clear, none of these phones are compatible with Skype, which uses its own proprietary protocol. Our prerequisite for choosing the review telephones is that they had to cost under £150, have the ability to connect to multiple ITSP accounts and be able to handle multiple calls simultaneously for useful features such as attended (supervised) transferring of a call and conference calling.

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