How VoIP Works

If you’ve never heard of VoIP, get ready to change the way you think about long-distance phone calls. VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a method for taking analog audio signals, like the kind you hear when you talk on the phone, and turning them into digital data that can be transmitted over the Internet.

How is this useful? VoIP can turn a standard Internet connection into a way to place free phone calls. The practical upshot of this is that by using some of the free VoIP software that is available to make Internet phone calls, you’re bypassing the phone company (and its charges) entirely.

VoIP is a revolutionary technology that has the potential to completely rework the world’s phone systems. VoIP providers like Vonage have already been around for a while and are growing steadily. Major carriers like AT&T are already setting up VoIP calling plans in several markets around the United States, and the FCC is looking seriously at the potential ramifications of VoIP service.

Above all else, VoIP is basically a clever “reinvention of the wheel.” In this article, we’ll explore the principles behind VoIP, its applications and the potential of this emerging technology, which will more than likely one day replace the traditional phone system entirely.

The interesting thing about VoIP is that there is not just one way to place a call. There are three different “flavors” of VoIP service in common use today:

  • ATA — The simplest and most common way is through the use of a device called an ATA (analog telephone adaptor). The ATA allows you to connect a standard phone to your computer or your Internet connection for use with VoIP. The ATA is an analog-to-digital converter. It takes the analog signal from your traditional phone and converts it into digital data for transmission over the Internet. Providers like Vonage and AT&T CallVantage are bundling ATAs free with their service. You simply crack the ATA out of the box, plug the cable from your phone that would normally go in the wall socket into the ATA, and you’re ready to make VoIP calls. Some ATAs may ship with additional software that is loaded onto the host computer to configure it; but in any case, it’s a very straightforward setup.
  • IP Phones — These specialized phones look just like normal phones with a handset, cradle and buttons. But instead of having the standard RJ-11 phone connectors, IP phones have an RJ-45 Ethernet connector. IP phones connect directly to your router and have all the hardware and software necessary right onboard to handle the IP call. Wi-Fi phones allow subscribing callers to make VoIP calls from any Wi-Fi hot spot.
  • Computer-to-computer — This is certainly the easiest way to use VoIP. You don’t even have to pay for long-distance calls. There are several companies offering free or very low-cost software that you can use for this type of VoIP. All you need is the software, a microphone, speakers, a sound card and an Internet connection, preferably a fast one like you would get through a cable or DSL modem. Except for your normal monthly ISP fee, there is usually no charge for computer-to-computer calls, no matter the distance.

If you’re interested in trying VoIP, then you should check out some of the free VoIP software available on the Internet. You should be able to download and set it up in about three to five minutes. Get a friend to download the software, too, and you can start tinkering with VoIP to get a feel for how it works.

Next, we’ll look at exactly how VoIP is used.

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5 common computer problems… and how to fix them

There are few things more annoying in life than working on a computer only for it to become unresponsive or throw up an error message. When your computer stops responding – also known as “crashing” – it can result in you losing hours of work. While many apps back-up data to cloud storage, you can still end up losing loads of progress. 

Worst of all, when your PC does encounter an error, the resulting error message (if one even appears) can often be full of jargon that doesn’t explain in plain English what went wrong. This can make figuring out what happened very difficult, especially if you’re not that used to using computers. Even the best home computers and the best laptops can go wrong, and you should know how to deal with the most common issues.

To make things easier, we’ve put together this guide to the five most common computer problems, and how to fix each one. You should also check out our pick of the best repair software for PC to help you fix these problems quickly and easily.

1. Blue Screen of Death (BSoD)

The ‘blue screen of death’ is one of the most recognisable computer errors that can occur, and if you’ve ever used a PC there’s a good chance that you might have encountered a blue screen of death error already.

What usually happens is that your PC will become unresponsive for a few seconds, and then the screen will turn completely blue and an error message (that’s sometimes completely indecipherable) will appear. Your PC will then restart, and if you’re lucky you won’t have lost too much work. 

While the name ‘blue screen of death‘ started off as a bit of a joke, it hints at how scary this error message can be. If you get a blue screen of death without saving your work, the resulting reboot of your PC can make you lose any changes you’ve made to a document.

While some blue screen of death errors are one offs, most of the time they are an indication that there’s something wrong with your PC, and there are a number of reasons why you may get a blue screen of death error. Failing hardware, corrupted software, missing DLL files or problems with drivers can be the main culprits. 

The way to fix a blue screen of death error will vary depending on what caused it to appear. When the blue screen of death error appears you should see a code. Quickly note that down, then type it into Google (or another search engine of your choice). You’ll hopefully find that other people have encountered the same error and have posted how they fixed it. 

The good news is that in Windows 10, Microsoft has made the blue screen of death error message more useful. For a start, it’s no longer blue — it’s green. There will also be a QR code that is displayed along with the error message. Use your smartphone to scan the QR code and you should be taken to a webpage that will explain the error message in more detail, and offer advice on how to fix it.

Lenovo Ideacenter

(Image credit: Lenovo)

2. Windows is slow to boot

A slow-booting PC is one of the most common — and annoying — computer problems you can encounter. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to fix. There are several reasons why your PC will take a long time to load up — but the most common cause is that there will be too many programs trying to load up in the background when Windows starts.

You may notice when you install a new program that it sets itself to load when you first log into Windows. While this can sometimes be useful, as a means those programs open up quickly when you need them, when too many of them try to start up once it can slow your PC to a crawl. The easiest way to fix this problem is to identify what programs are loading up when Windows starts and disable any programs that you do not need.

To do this, open up the Task Manager in Windows 10 by pressing CTRL + Shift + Esc on your keyboard. In the Task Manager window, click on the ‘Start-up’ tab at the top of the window. This lists all the apps and programs that load when Windows 10 starts up. If this is a long list, that will be the cause of your PC being slow to boot.

In the Task Manager, you’ll see the name of the app followed by the publisher, its status and the start-up impact. If it says “High” in the ‘Start-up impact’ column, then that means the program is slowing down Windows 10’s bootup speed. If you don’t need the app to load when Windows starts, then right-click on its entry and select ‘Disable’. This will prevent the app from loading when Windows 10 starts.

Remember, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use the app when you need it, it just means it doesn’t pre-load with Windows. Hopefully, disabling a number of these apps will make a noticeable difference to the time it takes for Windows 10 to load.

If you find that your PC is still slow to boot, there may be other issues affecting it. For example, you may want to check that you have the latest updates and drivers installed for your hardware. If you really want to give your PC a speed boost when it comes to boot times, then you may want to think about installing an SSD in your PC and running Windows 10 from that. An SSD (Solid State Drive) is a much faster drive than a traditional hard drive and installing Windows 10 on one can make a huge difference to how fast it boots.

3. Applications won’t install

Another common computing problem that many people face are applications not installing. The main reason for this is a lack of hard drive space. If your hard drive has become full, it may mean that you are no longer able to install new applications. If this is the case, then you’ll need to do a bit of spring cleaning. 

First of all, you can delete any large files that you no longer need. Open up File Explorer and then navigate to your Downloads folder. This folder often holds lots of large files that you no longer need, so feel free to delete any large files from there. 

You can also free up hard drive space by uninstalling any programs that you no longer use. In the search box in the Taskbar (this is the bar that runs along the bottom of your screen in Windows 10) type in “uninstall”, then click on ‘Add or remove programs’. Scroll down the list of programs that is displayed and click on any that you no longer need. A button will appear saying ‘Uninstall’. Click it to remove the program from your PC. 

You can also get Windows 10 to clean up your hard drive for you. Again, in the search box of the taskbar, type in “disk clean-up” and then press return on your keyboard. From the window that appears, select the drive that you want to clean up. By default this will be the C: drive, which is where Windows 10 and the majority of the programs will be installed. Click ‘OK’, and Windows 10’s Disk Clean-up tool for scan your drive and find files that you can safely delete to free up disk space. From the window that appears you’ll see how much space you can save on your hard drive. Tick the box next to each type of file that you want to remove then click ‘OK’.

Dell XPS desktop computer

(Image credit: Dell)

It’s important to keep Windows 10 updated to ensure that your PC runs as well as possible, whilst also being protected against the latest security threats. Even the best antivirus software won’t keep you safe if your version of Windows is out of date. However, there are times when you may encounter a problem wh
en updating Windows 10. 

One of the most common problems with Windows Update is when an update fails to install. You will usually see an error message appear explaining that the update has not been successful. Most of the time, this error message is quite good at explaining what the problem is and how to fix it, and one of the most common reasons for Windows update not installing is incompatible software. This means you may have an old version of an app or program that is preventing the Windows update to install. If this is the case, the error message should explain which program is causing the issue. Either uninstall the program which is causing the error, or visit the developer’s website to make sure you have the latest version installed. Afterwards, try installing the update again. 

Another reason why a Windows update may fail to install is due to a lack of hard drive space. Each update requires a minimum amount of hard drive space to be available to install correctly, and if your hard drive is too full, then the installation will fail. To fix this problem, free up hard drive space using the methods we outlined in the step above.

If you find that your computer is behaving erratically after installing a Windows update, then it could be that the Windows update itself is causing the problem. To fix this, you will need to uninstall the update. To do this type in “Windows update” into the Taskbar search box and select ‘Windows Update settings‘. In the window that appears, click ‘View update history’. Then, select either ‘Uninstall updates’ or ‘Recovery options’ and follow the steps to uninstall the problem update. Make sure you check Microsoft’s support website to see if Microsoft has released a permanent fix for the problem update.

5. Apps behaving badly

Another common PC problem is when apps and programs start acting strangely. Perhaps they suddenly close down without warning, or maybe documents look a bit strange in Word. 

Once again, there is a wide range of reasons why an app may not be working correctly. The first thing you should do is save your work, then restart your PC. Load up the app, and see if it is now working as intended.

If there’s still an issue, you next port of call should be an internet search engine, where you can type in the name of the program and a description of the issue. Hopefully, other people will have had similar issues, figured out how to fix it, and shared their solutions online. 

It’s also worth checking the website of the developers of the app to see if they have released a fix. If the developer’s website has a forum, that can be a good place to look for fixes. While you’re there, make sure you have the latest updates installed. If that fails to fix the problem, it may be worth contacting the app’s support team for more help with fixing the problem.

Dell XPS 13

(Image credit: Dell)

Can System Repair Software help?

If your computer suffers from a common problem, then there’s a good chance that system repair software can help you fix it. The best repair software for PC can detect and fix issues with only a few clicks of a mouse, and as well as sorting out faulty apps, if can also help you free up disk space and optimise your computer so that it runs faster. It might even discover issues that you’ve not even noticed yet!

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Results That Speak For Themselves

“It is with great pleasure that I get to recommend Executech as an IT department for your company. We have been using Executech to help manage our technology needs for the past twelve years, and have always been completely satisfied. We recently had to do a server migration. It was the most seamless transition that we’ve ever been through! I would give them an A+! They do an excellent job and are truly rock stars of the IT world.”

Kristin Waters

 | 

Greene’s Inc

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Woods Cross, UT

Greene's Inc

“I recommend doing business with Executech with no reservations whatsoever. It is a pleasure knowing and working with all of their service technicians and I can equally recommend any of them. They are honest, knowledgeable, prompt and hard working. In addition, their company offers fair competitive prices.”

Tricia Morgan

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Machinery Consultants Inc.

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Salt Lake City, UT

Machinery Consultants Inc.

“Going with Executech for our IT support is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made! At first, we thought it was all too good to be true. We are incredibly impressed with the level of personalized and friendly customer service we’ve received. Executech has been extremely responsive to issues we have experienced and as a result, has increased our agency’s efficiency. Not a week goes by without our staff praising Executech and our IT consultant.”

Shelby Satko

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Washington Vocational Services

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Everett, WA

Washington Vocational Services

“When we retained Executech to maintain our network, we had numerous technical challenges. Our most pressing problems were centered on poor service from our previous provider and email problems. We made the move to Executech and within days of making the change, we were extremely relieved and our problems had a path to a solution. The technicians at Executech are very personable and professional. For the first time in some time, we feel confident in our technology and the provider supporting us.”

Jennifer Mitchell

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Peterson Partners

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Salt Lake City, UT

Peterson Partners

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  Your business’s IT needs are unique and often complex. You may have heard about or considered the option of outsourcing your IT to a third-party company. Entrusting another…

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4 steps to troubleshooting almost any IT issue

Troubleshooting IT can be… tedious (understatement of the year). End users submit seemingly endless problems ranging from complaints of their Internet being “slow” to forgotten passwords to constant printer pains. What’s your plan of action for the next vague phone call, email request about tech issues, or help desk ticket from a big wig who needs his computer fixed… RIGHT NOW?

Worry not! We’ve got several problem-solving steps to follow that’ll help ease the stress of solving nearly any IT issue:

Step 1: What exactly is the problem?

Getting to the bottom of a computer issue can sometimes feel like playing 20 questions, so it’s crucial to ask the right questions first if you want to discover the root problem quickly.

  • If you’re talking to someone or emailing with them, listen or read carefully and take notes (mental or otherwise). When they’re done, proceed with questions that either have a yes/no answer or can be answered quantifiably (e.g., “How many times did this happen?”). This approach can move things along and cut down on ambiguous responses.
  • What should you ask? The key is to find out the “who, what, and when” of the problem. Does the issue affect just one person or many people? Did it occur right after a significant event on the computer or the network? There are specific questions you can ask to drill down beneath general statements like “I can’t send email.” Are they using a PC or mobile device? Is the PC power on? Are they able to open their e-mail client? Can they send or receive email, or both?
  • Once you’ve got a grasp on the issue, try repeating your understanding of the problem so that you’re both on the same page as to what’s wrong. It’s a good idea to use some the same language they used and avoid using complex tech terminolgy. Ideally, this will help remove potential confusion related to the issue.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the issue is all about, you can look into technical details that could point you toward to a solution.

QuestionsHow can you answer the most common IT questions?

2) Gather more details, eliminate variables

In many instances, what was reported as a general issue (e.g., the Internet is down) is actually something very particular, such as a specific website being offline. Best way to find out? Ask those pertinent questions and then dig up more info from various sources such as:

  • Error messages: If the user reports one or you’re present to check for one, they can point you in the right direction as to why a failure occurred. For example, Windows blue screens of death provide a relevant error code that’ll give you a good sense of what caused a failure.
  • Events logs: Do they exist, and if so, what exactly do they say? In addition to error messages, logs often provide a timestamp so you can answer the question of when exactly events happened. Checking the Windows event viewer can be a first step in pointing you towards any relevant logs.
  • Can the user provide screenshots, video, or other supporting information that can help assist in the troubleshooting process?
  • Diagnostics results: Have you run system utilities to get even more information? For example: ping can help you remotely check if a server or website in question is reachable. Additionally, the Windows memory diagnostic can check for faulty memory, the resource monitor or performance monitor can check for unusually high CPU or memory usage, and a disk check can examine your hard drives for errors.
  • Monitoring: Do you have any 3rd party tools that can offer more clues or predict issues before they occur? A network monitoring solution like Spiceworks provides preemptive alerts and warnings about servers at risk of going down. And a network inventory application can provide vital statistics on dozens or hundreds of systems such as disk space, available memory, OS installed, and software running on the devies in question.

Event ViewerThe event viewer helps you find logs that can point towards the source of a problem

Step 3: Reproduce the problem, develop hypothesis of root cause

Now that you’ve gathered basic background info, it’s time to get hands-on with the problem. Reproducing an issue simply means verifying you can recreate the same error the user reported. You can do this at the physical site of the problem, or through a remote desktop / remote control application. Neither of those options available? You might be able to approximate the same conditions on a similar computer.

Once you encounter the same error(s), you can more easily develop theories as to the root cause based on what you observe, then start taking steps to fix the issue. Sometimes you’ll find the culprit (and come up with the solution) pretty quickly. Other times, it’ll take longer and you may have to dig into knowledge bases, comb through old help desk tickets, or Google the problem for others who have faced the same issue.

At this phase, a deep understanding of how computers work will prove… useful. For example, in computer networking, if you understand 7 layer OSI model for networks (a problem can exist in any one of them), you have a framework for systematically working your way through the potential causes of a networking problem. For a connectivity issue, an Ethernet cable could be damaged or unplugged (Layer 1 issue), network requests might not be going through (Layer 3), or an application might not be properly coded (Layer 6).

Step 4: Attempt a fix based on findings

The evidence you’ve already gathered should have narrowed down possible root causes and positioned you to fix the issue. At this point, focused experimentation is the name of the game. You can try tweaking changing settings related to the problem, swapping out faulty parts, repairing corrupted files, updating drivers and software, etc. until you solve the problem (or at least get closer).

Still stumped? You can always restore the machine back to a point when everything was working fine. That is, if someone took the all-important step of backing up data or system state before the problem happened so you can go back to a simpler time… before problems plagued their PC.

While every issue is like a unique snowflake, a significant number of issues can be resolved through common troubleshooting steps like rebooting the problematic machine, checking for DNS and DHCP issues, checking the device manager for driver issues, cleaning up a machine, or checking firewall or proxy settings, etc. For issues that are tougher, if your own experimentation and Google searches don’t result in a satisfactory result, browsing discussions on IT forums such as Spiceworks can be extremely helpful for fixing PC issues. If nothing turns up there, you can always ask the community of millions of IT pros in Spiceworks.

Problem Solved? Prepare for future issues

No matter what the underlying tech problems are (networks issu
es, driver conflicts, disk problems, etc), the process outlined above works well for gathering info, identifying possible causes of the issue, and getting to a solution no matter what issue you’re dealing with. But you’ll still have to make judgment calls depending on each unique case.

With this sort of system in place, and knowledge learned working through previous computer problems, you’ll be able to knock out computer problems more efficiently as you gain more experience. And to be proactive in avoiding future crises, perhaps you can document issues so they can be referred to by anyone who encounters similar challenges down the line.

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Using Problem-Solving Strategies to Finding a Solution

Inspiration

Reviewed by

Updated on March 20, 2020

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Many researchers refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

  1. Identifying the Problem: While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.
  2. Defining the Problem: After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved.
  3. Forming a Strategy: The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual’s unique preferences.
  4. Organizing Information: Before coming up with a solution, we need to first organize the available information. What do we know about the problem? What do we not know? The more information that is available, the better prepared we will be to come up with an accurate solution.
  5. Allocating Resources: Of course, we don’t always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is. If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources into coming up with a solution.
  6. Monitoring Progress: Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies.
  7. Evaluating the Results: After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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