Vonage Goes Head to Head with Ma Bell
By Jim Bray
Voice over IP is starting to make some headway in the marketplace, thanks
to companies like Vonage.
Voice over IP telephones take the long distance out of long distance phoning
by using the Internet instead of conventional phone lines, because in cyberspace
where you are physically doesnt matter, and this makes every call
a local call regardless of who or where youre calling.
Vonage, at least as of this writing, appears to be the 300 pound gorilla
of VoIP companies, though theyre also competing head to head with
some Internet providers such as cable companies.
Ive done a bit of a mini test of the Vonage service, though not
nearly as much as Id have liked, but it appears to work as advertised.
There are some hoops you have to jump through, though, and you have to
get used to a funny dial tone and an overall sound quality that is different
from that to which youre probably used. It isnt really an inferior
sound quality, at least so far as our temporary hookup was concerned, just
Setup is quite easy if you only have one phone and its close to
where your Internet service comes into your home or office. The system
I tried comes with a phone adapter/network router you plug into your Internet
modem and your computer on one side and your phone on the other.
Vonage includes straightforward setup instructions, though they take into
account a network with more than one computer and not an installation with
more than one phone, which seems like a silly oversight. What this meant
in my installation is that I had to install the hardware down in our workshop,
where our network is set up, and I only got access to one phone that was
in that room.
I asked Vonage for help in setting up all my phones, but their PR person
never responded until it was time for him to ask for the system back and
my question was never addressed.
But according to their website, if you want to use multiple phones you
have to either purchase a multiple jack extension connector, and then connect
it to the Vonage equipment and it needs to interface with your existing
phone lines in the home/office or get a bunch of wireless phone
jacks that use the homes wiring.
In my installation this was impractical, since I didnt want to
mess with the hardwired installation for a temporary test, nor did I want
to buy the necessary equipment only to have it rendered useless when I
sent the Vonage equipment back.
Ah, the trials and tribulations of a reviewer!
Another possible solution is that, if you have a cordless phone with a
base station and satellites, you can plug the base station into the Vonage
unit. In my home this was impractical because the base station also acts
as our answering machine and I didnt like the idea of having to head
down to our dungeon-like basement just to check for messages.
So I ended up using Vonage on one phone in the basement and my regular
service in the rest of the house. This allowed for a nice apples
to apples comparison, but it also meant I kept forgetting the Vonage-shod
phone was downstairs, through force of habit, and kept using my other
four regular phones and of course since I didnt switch my
phone number over to Vonage (which would be a darn nice feature that Id
definitely use if I were to switch to Vonage permanently), incoming calls
always came to my regular system anyway.
The result was that I hardly ever used the Vonage system, which was a
shame because it does offer a lot of features for the price and I was dying
to give it a real workout.
Another potential way to get around the multiple phones problem is through
Vonages Wi-Fi phones, which arent on the market yet but which
are currently in beta testing in the U.S. and should be available there
sometime before the end of 2005.
The Wi-Fi phone looks like a cell phone and connects to the Internet
via wireless networks. When its available, itll be marketed
as an extra handset option you can use with your existing Vonage service.
One of the Wi-Fi phones supposed advantages is that youll
be able to use it at many of those Wi-Fi hotspots that are showing up increasingly
in public places such as airports and hotels. It apparently wont
work in locations where you have to log on with a username and password,
at least at first, so that may limit its usefulness initially. But it sounds
like a handy way to take your phone from home to office and whatever points
in between will handle it.
But to me, the greatest benefit of the $100 US Wi-Fi handset that, since
its portable, it could make buying all those wireless phone jacks
unnecessary. It should work like a regular cordless phone, and if thats
the case, itll be a wonderful, though relatively expensive, feature.
It could also reduce your cell phone expenses by cutting down on the number
of times you have to use your old fashioned cell phone. It isnt a
cell phone, though, which means you still have to be in range of a wireless
network to use it.
Anyway, the multiple phone caveat notwithstanding, Vonage offers a wonderful
assortment of features with its service, and you can log onto their website
to monitor your account and your phone usage.
Features include virtual phone numbers, which let you pretend to
have phone numbers in area codes other than your own. This telephone
sleight of hand is a nice idea if, for example, you have a lot of
people who phone you from a particular area code, or a few people who phone
you a lot. By using your fudged number, they can call you without
having to pay long distance charges. This feature costs $7.99 Canadian
per month, however.
But included in the basic price are such features as: Voicemail Plus,
Caller ID with Name, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding and 3-Way Calling though
I couldnt get the 3-way calling to work (it may have been the phone
I was using rather than a problem with Vonage, however).
The best residential service package lists for $39.99 per month Canadian/$24.99
US, and includes unlimited local and long distance calling anywhere in
the US or Canada. Thats a good deal if you do a long of long distance
phoning. There are also cheaper deals, starting at $19.99/month Canadian
($14.99 US) for 500 minutes per month for calls in the US or Canada, so
which plan is best for you depends on how verbose you tend to be.
And dont forget the extra costs you may incur if you have multiple
Business customer prices start at $55.99 Canadian/$39.99US for 1500 local/long
distance (Canada and US) minutes and for $69.99 Canadian/$49.99 US per
a month you get unlimited calling. Both business services also include
a dedicated fax line.
As I mentioned earlier, the service seems to work as advertised, so despite
my test being rather limited, I am intrigued enough to be now considering
switching to VoIP technology.
If my contact had answered my questions when Id asked them, however,
Id be even more prone to thinking about it, at least so far as Vonage's
service is concerned.
I hope that isnt an indication of their commitment to customer service.
TechnoFile Publisher Jim Bray's columns are syndicated through the TechnoFile