Ring, ring: the internet is calling as US VoIP call rates surge

One in four American adult internet users have made a phone call using online VoIP services said market research company Pew Internet in a report released on May 30.

Back in 2004, about the same number of internet users said they were aware that it was possible to use the internet for phone calling, but the majority of consumers had never used VoIP services.

By February 2007 only 8 percent of US internet users (6% of all adults in the US) had tried the technology, said Pew Internet, referencing a previous report they had conducted.

In 2011, 19 percent of the entire adult population of America or 24 percent of American adult internet users are placing some (or all) of their calls over the internet.

Internet phone calls have surged in popularity for many reasons. VoIP calls are either free or much cheaper than other types of phone calls; work places have started to exploit online phone connections and video conferences calls; families are logging on to services such as Skype and Vonage to keep their monthly phone bills down; and VoIP apps on smartphones and tablet computers are making it easier to make internet calls from any location.

On any given day in 2011, five percent of America's internet users go online to place a phone call and to chat with their local and international friends and family.

Smartphones in particular are playing a large role in the increase of online calls and internet video conferencing.

"In the current survey, we found that 7% of cell phone owners had participated in video calls or online chats with their handheld device," said Pew.

Pew notes that a small percentage of the recorded increase in internet phone users may be due to the changed wording of the question it asked respondents. Pew specifically named popular voice communications company Skype for the first time when asking people about their online calling habits.

"That changed wording might account for some of the increase," said Pew, "but there is little doubt that the popularity of online phone calling has picked up over time."

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