The Nitty-Gritty of How VoIP Works
Fact: Jive hosts VoIP communications.
Fact: Most people read that sentence, shake their heads, and say, “What?”
Fact: By the end of this article, you’ll read that sentence, nod your head, and say, “Got it.”
If you’re confused by terms like “VoIP” and “hosted communications,” you would not be the only one. Without a background in telephony or technical jargon, it can be hard to understand what it is Jive actually does. (I know because people ask me frequently and, before writing this article, I couldn’t tell them.) Let’s start by defining VoIP. It stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and it means using the internet to make phone calls and to otherwise communicate. If you’re thinking of something like Skype, you’re on the right track. Like Skype, Jive uses VoIP technology to make the internet into a pathway for communication.
The first time someone tried to explain VoIP to me, my thought was, if we’re using the internet to make the phone call, why do we need Jive? Isn’t the internet enough? And why do we call Jive a host? Pause. There are two separate parts to understand here. One is how a VoIP phone gets connected to Jive in the first place, and the other is how the actual VoIP phone call works. For the first part, we’re going to use a little analogy magic and compare a VoIP phone getting connected with Jive to a person setting up an email account.
When you want to use email, the first thing you’ve got to do is set up an account. So you go to a site, say, Gmail, and a nice red button in the corner says, “Create an Account.” You click on it, which informs Gmail that you want to register. Gmail asks for some information (name, date of birth, etc.) so it can know who you are and identify you in the future. Once you’ve given it that information, it says, “Okay, here’s your email address! Using your Gmail account, you can now use the internet to email people.”
Now imagine that you’re breaking your VoIP phone out of its package and setting it up for the first time. You plug it in, and a registration process begins. But unlike with Gmail, you don’t have to enter your information—the phone does that automatically—you just have to tell it what email provider to use.
When a VoIP phone gets turned on, you first provide it with the web address of where you want it to connect. It’s programmed to send out a signal through the internet to its host, in this case, Jive. The signal lets Jive know that the phone wants to get registered to use an account with Jive. But like Gmail, Jive requires some information to make that happen. So Jive bounces a request for ID back to the phone, which responds with its MAC address (the serial number on the back of the phone). Jive checks the credentials, then says, “Okay, you’re all set up. Using Jive, you can now use the internet to call people.”
Analogy make sense? Jive is like an email account in that it allows you to access the power of the internet for communicating, but instead of being an account for email, it’s for phones (and soon for the whole world of business communication).
Okay, at this point, our VoIP phone is fired up and ready to go, courtesy of Jive. Awesome. Now, how does the actual phone call work? To see, we’ll look at a scenario. Let’s say Conner wants to talk to Lauren via a regular old voice phone call on a VoIP phone. Here’s the play-by-play of what happens.
Conner picks up his phone and dials Lauren’s number. His phone sends the data to Jive, asking Jive to find Lauren’s phone and connect it with Conner’s.
Jive scours its database and all other available connections until it finds the IP address associated with Lauren’s information. It passes the invitation through the network, which results in Lauren’s phone getting a signal telling it to ring.
Lauren’s phone sends a response back through Jive to Conner’s phone to let it know it got the invitation. Conner’s phone continues to wait, ringing, while Lauren’s phone continues to send the response letting Conner’s phone know it is still ringing.
And, thanks to the speed of electricity (more than 186,000 miles per second), all of that happens without either Conner or Lauren even noticing.
The ring-response process goes on for a bit, and then Lauren answers the phone. Doing so opens a circuit between Conner and Lauren’s phones for the duration of their conversation. At this point, Jive acts as an intermediary. Figuratively, it’s as if Jive were a room with a door on either side. In starting the call, it opened both doors for the people behind them (Conner and Lauren) to have their conversation. During the conversation, Jive the room doesn’t do much, just allows conversation to flow through it. (However, if Jive were not there, the connection could not exist; Jive the room acts as a bridge between the calls.) If at some point Lauren wants to modify the voice call to something else, like a video call, Jive adjusts the room to make that happen, and then goes back to being a bystander.
Jive jumps into active mode again when Conner and Lauren want to end their conversation.
Conner says good-bye and clicks the “off” button. His phone sends a signal to Jive, who sends a signal to Lauren’s phone to let it know that the connection has been terminated on Conner’s end.
Upon receiving this signal, Lauren’s phone terminates the call on her end too.
The call is over.
Fact: VoIP is awesome. A host like Jive makes it possible to communicate vocally via the internet, something no one imagined possible not that long ago. And now you know how the process works. Nodding and saying, “got it” yet?