The internet, by its very nature, is open to the whole world, allowing data and ideas to be freely exchanged anywhere. It’s easy to assume, therefore, that when using VoIP your phone calls are free to roam anywhere around the net too.

However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Because, when it first started to appear in the mid 1990s, VoIP posed a threat to established PSTN telephone service providers, it became one of the first areas of the web to be relatively tightly regulated. As a result, when you’re choosing an international VoIP provider, it’s important to understand the effect that this regulation might have on the service and how you can use it.

Because of the way VoIP works, your data will change hands many times in the course of making a call. Wholesale and retail service providers regularly exchange VoIP traffic between them by way of trade, as well as exchanging traffic with conventional telecoms services. Regulation of the market internationally affects how this happens so it’s important that you understand a little about how it works.

Regulated and unregulated

The first thing to understand is that while some aspects of VoIP are regulated, others are not. Regulation applies where VoIP calling connects to existing PSTN networks, allowing you to make calls to and receive them from conventional telephones. This ensures that the traditional service providers are compensated correctly for the use of their infrastructure. It also ensures that VoIP service providers meet certain standards for their calls to be accepted on the PSTN networks. For example, the E911 standard for emergency calling and the E.164 standard for allocating numbers. It also means that you can expect call quality levels equivalent or close to those of a PSTN service.

Where IP calling takes place solely within the internet – when it’s computer to computer or IP phone to IP phone — then it doesn’t need to be regulated. Quality and reliability may therefore not be as good as when using regulated services. There is also likely to be a more limited feature set available to users of the service.

Some providers span the gap between these two fields and this is where you need to be careful when signing up for a service. VoIP providers may have varying levels of IP interconnection in different parts of the world and so you need to understand what you’re going to get when you sign a contract.

Restrictions on VoIP

Not all countries of the world enjoy the same levels of personal freedom and this applies just as much to VoIP services. In some regions, the use of VoIP services may be restricted or even banned altogether.

In the west, generally speaking, VoIP has become accepted due to its lower costs and the fact that the technology has developed to the point where call quality is almost on a par with PSTN systems. In less developed countries, however, markets remain closed to VoIP often to protect the monopoly position of state-owned telephony service providers.

Currently, the use of VoIP is restricted to some degree in China, parts of Africa and the Middle East and some areas of South and Central America. If your business involves calling these areas, therefore, you need to be fully aware of the implications. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) publishes data on the levels of restriction around the world. VoIP service providers should also be able to advise you as to any restrictions on international calling you may be faced with when signing up for their services.

Choosing an international VoIP wholesale provider

As a business, there are several essentials you need to consider when looking for an international VoIP provider. The first concerns the nature of your own company. If you have offices or employees in countries where VoIP is restricted, you may have difficulty in establishing connections to link them to a company-wide IP phone network. It can be possible to connect using unregulated services, but this is risky and there will generally be a compromise on call quality.

If you simply have a need to call customers or suppliers in restricted countries then it’s usually possible for calls to be routed via PSTN. This means there’s less of a problem although call costs may be higher.

In deciding on an international VoIP strategy for your enterprise, it’s worth talking in some detail with potential suppliers in order to minimise the risk of problems. You will need to balance the need for reliability and call quality against the coverage available. Mature providers such as IDT are able to advise you on the best strategy to meet the specific needs of your organisation and geographical coverage. It isn’t worth the risk of using an unregulated provider.