TechnoFILE is copyright and a registered trademark © ® of
Pandemonium Productions.
All rights reserved.
E-mail us Here!

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 doesn’t matter, and this makes every call a local call regardless of who or where you’re calling.

Vonage, at least as of this writing, appears to be the 300 pound gorilla of VoIP companies, though they’re also competing head to head with some Internet providers such as cable companies.

I’ve done a bit of a mini test of the Vonage service, though not nearly as much as I’d 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 you’re probably used. It isn’t really an inferior sound quality, at least so far as our temporary hookup was concerned, just different.

Setup is quite easy if you only have one phone and it’s 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 home’s wiring.

In my installation this was impractical, since I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t switch my phone number over to Vonage (which would be a darn nice feature that I’d 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 Vonage’s Wi-Fi phones, which aren’t 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 it’s available, it’ll be marketed as an extra handset option you can use with your existing Vonage service.

One of the Wi-Fi phone’s supposed advantages is that you’ll 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 won’t 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 it’s portable, it could make buying all those wireless phone jacks unnecessary. It should work like a regular cordless phone, and if that’s the case, it’ll 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 isn’t 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 couldn’t 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. That’s 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 don’t forget the extra costs you may incur if you have multiple phones.

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 I’d asked them, however, I’d be even more prone to thinking about it, at least so far as Vonage's service is concerned.

I hope that isn’t an indication of their commitment to customer service.

TechnoFile Publisher Jim Bray's columns are syndicated through the TechnoFile Syndicate.


Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think













Support TechnoFile
via Paypal

TechnoFILE's E-letter
We're pleased to offer
our FREE private,
private E-mail service.
It's the "no brainer"
way to keep informed.

Our Privacy Policy

January 31, 2006