VoIP phone service is the new darling of the internet world. This segment of the web-based economy has been expanding for years, and new advances in technology and service are only accelerating this trend. Current service offerings from the major VoIP service providers are rivaling the services that the major telecommunications companies can provide.

VoIP, which stands for "voice over internet protocol," allows users to place phone calls to other VoIP users at no charge--even over long distances. This is even sometimes true for international calls, though most international VoIP calls incur small fees. While greatly reduced rates have always been VoIP telephony's major selling point, call quality, equipment quality, and customer support have become key elements within the industry.

Residential VoIP phone service is usually so simple to install and use that price and call quality are the only real factors in choosing a provider. (Most VoIP providers offer caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, and other popular features, so there is not much differentiation in the area of features.) However, since price differences between providers are generally small, residential users may want to consider the aesthetics of the phones they will be using.

Business VoIP customers generally have greater needs than residential customers, because their systems are more involved and there is more at stake if calls are dropped or service is interrupted. Business users need to be concerned with reliability and quality of technical support. In most instances, business users will be better served by avoiding bargain-basement VoIP service providers.