March 8, 2004

leap to voip

I'm sure many of you know that Lydia and I are in the process of changing phone carriers. Not phone numbers, mind you, but carriers. We'll still be at the same old number, but our calls are being handled by Vonage. If you have a cable modem, you seriously need to consider ditching your land line and going to this service. It's pretty easy, and you can keep your own number. You can also try it out for two weeks and see if you like it before you commit.

Who's your phone company and what does he do?
Vonage sends your phone calls over your Internet connection to a "Digital Phone Adapter." This little box sits between your computer (or router) and the cable modem and turns bits and bytes into a regular phone call. Here's Vonage's simple diagram of how it's set up. As you can see, they just show it going to one phone, but if you're even just a little bit creative, you can set it up so every phone in your house uses it. That's what we've got.

Why did we switch?
One word: price/feature ratio. Okay, three words, but you get the idea. Here's the comparison:
  Vonage Bellsouth
Phone Line Base Cost $14.95 $12.34
Call Waiting included $4.50
Talking Call Waiting not available $3.00
Three-Way Calling included $5.00
Call Return (*69) included $5.00
Repeat Dialing included $4.00
Caller ID with Name and Number Delivery included $7.95
Call Waiting Deluxe included $6.50
Privacy Director® Service included $5.95
Star 98 (voicemail access from home) see Star 123 $1.00
Star 123 (voicemail access from home) included see Star 98
Message Delivery Service (group messaging) not available No Charge
Call Forward Don't Answer with Ring Control not available $1.00
Voice Mail Service included $3.95
Submailboxes not available No Charge
Email voice messages received included not available
Message Waiting Indicator with Audio and Visual included $0.50
Call Forward Busy Line see Call Hunt $1.00
Call Hunt (forward to any number of lines when busy) included not available
Preferred Call Forwarding not available $4.00
Call Forwarding included $4.50
Remote Access to Call Forwarding (Vonage via internet) included $6.00
BellSouth® Call Selector (distinctive ring) not available $4.00
Call Block not available $4.00
RingMaster® Service - Additional Telephone Numbers
(Vonage allows numbers outside your area code.)
$4.95 $7.00
Anonymous Call Rejection included $3.00
BellSouth 25 Cent Call Plan included (free) $4.95
Call Tracing included via web $4.00
Speed Dial 8 not available $4.00
Speed Calling 30 not available $4.50
Outgoing International Call Block included not available
Toll Free Plus (give yourself a toll free number) $4.99 not available
Dedicated Fax line $9.99 $12.34+
Enhanced 411 service (info, sports, movies, etc.) $.99/call not enhanced
Real-time online account management included not realtime
Free phone calls to any other Vonage subscriber included nothing free!
With BellSouth, it adds up FAST. Vonage easily gives you $50 worth of features for free with your basic service. Plus, the emailed voicemail messages are easily the best feature ever created. And... I haven't included fees, fees, and more fees from BellSouth.

What are the drawbacks?
- there are not a lot of alternatives in the VOIP space that make sense right now. Vonage has a couple of competitors, but they aren't available nationally. (See Voxilla for some options.) It's not a mature space.
- your phone service is at the mercy of your Internet provider. Back when we first moved in, Comcast would work on our Internet connection periodically. Now that the neigborhood is completely built out, we have had quite a good amount of uptime on our cable modem connection. However, even when the cable modem is out, Vonage allows you to automatically forward your phone calls to another number... in our case... my cell phone.
- sometimes you get an echo effect. If your broadband connection isn't very busy (you're not running Kazaa or some other bandwidth hog,) the sound is great. If you hook the Digital Phone Adapter up the way they suggest, it can regulate the bandwidth that it needs to keep your Quality of Service (QoS) up to the point that your calls always sound good.
- 11 digit dialing. Every outbound call is a long distance call. It seems to me they should be able to build this in to the DPA (if the first digit is one, make an 11 digit call... if the first digit is not one, make a 7 digit call,) but they haven't yet. Once you get used to it, it's no worse than dialing 9 from an office phone.

We've opted for the 500 minute $14.95 a month plan. Why? Because we don't use our home phone that much. We make about four long distance calls a month. Additional minutes are only 3.9 cents each, so we'd have to go an extra four and 3/4 hours to incur the charge of the next plan up. You have to be a HEAVY phone user to make the bigger plans worth it.

Some features we don't use (yet) that are really cool:
- you can have multiple phone lines in different area codes that all ring your phone. So here, in Tennessee, I could have an extra local phone number in Idaho, or anywhere Vonage has service. The big advantage to this is that for $4.99 a month, you can set up a number that uses your minutes that is a local call for that area code. So if we wanted, we could set up a 214 area code number that is local for everyone in my family who lives in Dallas. Extrapolate the possibilities... your relatives might never have to call long distance to you again!
- cheap international calling. Because calls go over the internet, there's only a small upcharge compared to normal international rates.
- extreme phone number portability. Because Vonage works over the Internet, it's really only tied to your Digital Phone Adapter. If we wanted, we could take our digital phone adapter with us to a hotel that had free broadband Internet, and it would ring right there with our home phone number! Plus, that works anywhere you have broadband Internet... even overseas! We could be in Guam, but if we had our adapter plugged in to an Internet connection there, you could call us locally from Nashville.

If you're interested, drop me an email and I can tell you more about it. You get a month free, and I get a month free if I refer you!

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