For many people VoIP (voice over IP) is synonymous with Skype, the only brand of internet telephony that has made a real mark on the collective consumer consciousness.

This article appears in the January 07 issue of PC Advisor, onsale now in all good newsagents.

There is one major drawback to using Skype: it is proprietary. Fortunately, there is an alternative. You don't need to be restricted to making and receiving cut-price calls only with those using the same Skype service. VoIP has its own open standard.

SIP (session initiation protocol) enables you to call anyone who uses VoIP, except Skype customers. Skype doesn't accept incoming SIP calls. But, while Skype may seem to have the market to itself for the moment, there are loads of standards-based alternatives on the way.

Router hardware that directly supports SIP – including the Netgear TA612V Broadband Voice Adapter and the AVM FritzBox Fon we use in the January 07 issue of the magazine – is on the horizon.

VoIP can save you money on phone call costs. It uses your broadband connection to enable you to chat, but it is not as easy as picking up a phone. Cordless Wi-Fi VoIP handsets are a step forward, but they still need to be configured.

And you don't save as much as you might imagine. International VoIP calls to fixed lines might be very cheap, but shop around and you can match or better most VoIP landline call charges. Sipgate charges 1.5p per minute for calls to the US, but I subscribe to and it charges me a third less. All I have to do is pick up my phone and dial four digits before entering the number I wish to connect to. It's less hassle, it's cheaper and, consequently, VoIP doesn't get a look in.

However, VoIP has aces, too. It doesn't tie you down to calling from one location and, because it's an IP data service, it is so much more useful than analogue voice. Using a router that supports SIP, you no longer have to have your PC switched on to make calls, either.

For more information, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive VoIP.