Do you have a wireless or wired network in your home or office? Would you like to get more out of your network? Would you like to save money and time, and impress your friends or colleagues? If Yes! is the answer for any of these questions, this series is for you. You'll discover ways to put your network to use, beyond just the simple file- and printer-sharing techniques. Since you probably use your network every day, you should make sure that you're using it to the fullest extent.
This article discusses three great products that can use your network: Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Wi-Fi phones, network video cameras, and digital photo frames/signage. I'll explain what each product is, how these products can help you day-to-day, and what's involved in setting them up with your network. I even provide links so you can start comparison shopping for particular products.
VoIP and Wi-Fi Phones
Moving to VoIP (or digital) phone service means that you'll save big on your landline phone bills by getting free long distance and reduced (or free) international calls. Instead of your phone conversations going through the telephone lines outside, VoIP calls primarily transverse through the Internet. In addition to having a high-speed Internet connection, you'll need to make a small investment in a VoIP phone that plugs into your network (Figure 1 shows a GE Skype phone), or a VoIP adapter or router that connects the traditional phones and handsets to the network (Figure 2 shows a D-Link wireless router). However, many service providers even offer this VoIP-enabling equipment free or at a rebated price.
Figure 1 GE Skype DECT 6.0 2-in-1 Internet and standard phone (28300EE1).
Figure 2 D-Link wireless broadband VoIP router (DVG-G1402S).
Most VoIP residential plans that come with unlimited talk time start at around $20 a month with all the usual features—for example, call waiting, caller ID, and voicemail. Small business plans range anywhere from $35 to $70 a month and may include advanced features such as auto attendant, conferencing, fax line, music-on-hold, extensions, and many more. VoIP providers you may want to consider include Vonage, Skype, Voip.com, Packet8, Lingo, and those offered by your local phone and cable companies.
Cheap phone service isn't the only great benefit of VoIP. VoIP solutions can save businesses the money and time involved in installing traditional phone outlets when moving offices around, if Ethernet ports are available throughout the office. Instead of having to pay to have a phone outlet added or moved, just plug the VoIP phone into the Ethernet port in the new location. For locations that don't have an abundance of Ethernet ports (family homes, for instance), many VoIP providers offer software or portable adapters so you can use your computer and a headset to use the phone service. Don't have loads of Ethernet ports but do have plenty of phone jacks? Some VoIP solutions only require you to install one VoIP adapter. Then all the phone jacks in the building are converted into VoIP-enabled outlets, so you can plug in traditional phones.
It's important to note that VoIP phones don't always have to use the VoIP service via the Internet. Some VoIP phones allow you to switch between using traditional and VoIP phone service. With this arrangement, you can take advantage of the reliability of traditional phone lines for most calls, and the cost savings of VoIP service when making long distance or international calls. Some vendors refer to this type of phone as a dual-mode phone.
Because VoIP service is provided through the Internet, Wi-Fi phones (Figure 3 shows the SMC TigerVoIP) and hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi phones can connect to the service through wireless Internet access at public hotspots, in your offices, or at your home. Mobile phones with built-in Wi-Fi can save you mobile minutes and possibly Internet access fees. You also have a better chance of using your mobile phone where cellular signals are lacking; most Wi-Fi mobile phones will automatically switch to using a Wi-Fi network when detected. Many of these phones also use the Wi-Fi connection for the Internet source, so you can surf the Web on your mobile phone at broadband speeds.
Figure 3 SMC TigerVoIP Wi-Fi SIP Phone (SMCWSP-100).
A Wi-Fi phone will run anywhere from $130 to $250 online. Examples of Wi-Fi phones that support multiple service providers include the D-Link DPH-540 or DPH-541 and SMC Network's SMCWSP-100. Some phones support only Skype (for instance, the NETGEAR SPH200W, the SMC WSKP100, and the Belkin F1PP000GN-SK). Setting up a Wi-Fi phone usually just consists of entering your VoIP service account details. Then, when you're near a Wi-Fi hotspot or your wireless network, you choose the network and enter any encryption keys (similar to connecting on your PC).
For Wi-Fi mobile phones, T-Mobile offers an add-on service called Unlimited HotSpot Calling. At $9.99/month per line (family value plans are available), you can make and receive calls from your Wi-Fi–capable mobile phone at more than 8,900 T-Mobile HotSpot locations—along with most other places with Wi-Fi Internet available. Of course, T-Mobile has to be your cell phone carrier, and you need a supported phone. (Try searching the list of supported phones for your phone type.)