For the Home Technology Enthusiast

Voice-over-IP "VoIP" Telephone Service

 
     
 
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VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol provides the same telephone service that mankind has come to know and love over a hundred years. Well then, what's so special about it and what's all the rave about? That depends on what you want out of your telephone service - for starters, do you want to save some money? do you want to be able to access your voicemail over the Internet..and literally treat it as an email? do you want to have more than one telephone number on the same line..and do you want that to be a 'local' number at any place of your choosing so that people there can call you as local calls even though you may live in a different city or for that matter different continent? do you want the possibility of making and receiving calls on your computer also?

  

If your answer is YES to some or all the questions above, then VoIP is for you.. GO FOR IT! On the other hand, if you want a simple phone service that has a simple wall phone jack you can connect your phone to, then may be the traditional 'landline' is the one for you. Or, if you plan to use a lot of faxing on your voice line, you may want to stick to landline. Despite all claims, VoIP is simply not there yet (as of 2009) to support traditional fax machines. Some VoIP providers offer so called 'Business plans' that supposedly support fax by offering G.711 codecs, etc. Experience does not support that claim. After two years of trying several VoIP providers and their plans, teksupport.us has determined VoIP to be unsuitable for traditional fax machines.

 

There are a a host of VoIP service providers today. Selecting a VoIP service provider can be daunting given the hyped and confusing advertisements and commercials. Whatever method you choose to select a provider, DO NOT BE DETERRED by the myriad of negative opinions often found in user and other technology forums about any given VoIP service provider.  When compared to the traditional phone service, VoIP does introduce some new variables into the equation. A successful VoIP experience does require a reliable, broadband Internet connection. If you don't have one, don't even bother with VoIP.  It also requires the installation and use of a gizmo called VoIP 'adapter'. The adapter is what you plug your regular phone into. VoIP also introduces some restriction such as the inability to use all the traditional phone jacks wired into your house. Most VoIP setups pretty much force you to switch over to a cordless phone system where the base unit plugs into the VoIP adapter. Not a big deal these days since most homes already have cordless phone systems including multi-handset ones. But if you are one of those that are deeply attached to the traditional wired phone jacks, VoIP may disappoint you. While physically, the VoIP adapter can be connected to the telephone wiring in a home - and in some cases, it may even work - the adapter is almost always designed to support connection to a single phone device and not the existing telephone wiring with many phones connected. 

 

The figure below contrasts the setup of a traditional landline and a VoIP phone service.

    

 

 

 

Important tips when going for VoIP: 

  • DO NOT CANCEL your landline until you have had the VoIP service for a month or so and have checked it out fully, including the USE OF FAX (some VoIP service providers don't support fax well. And even if they do, chances are that you have to force your fax to operate down at 9.6 kbps speed rather than the 33.6kbps speed that it has probably been working on the landline). This may mean that you have two phone numbers for a while but IT IS WORTH the extra cost to try the VoIP out. You can always call forward your landline to the VoIP number so that others will not know the difference.

  • If you plan to keep your landline number after switching to VoIP service, initiate the 'number porting' process through your VoIP provider BEFORE you cancel the landline service. Your landline will be cancelled automatically once the process is completed, though it is a good practice to double check with your existing landline provider to be sure that the service is indeed terminated. Some VoIP providers provide an online way to check status on the process. 

  • Make sure that the VoIP provider has been in business for a while

  • Make sure you can indeed cancel service without penalty within a reasonable try out period (e.g., 30 days)

  • Read all fine prints of any special deal (e.g., attractive starting deals with significant increase down the road)

  • Avoid 'too good to be true' deal providers

  • Make sure you can actually talk to a human being behind the tech support line

  • Browse user forums (referenced in the provider's website) to get a fair assessment of the reliability and quality of service

 

They are all pretty much the same....

 

Yes, most VoIP providers offer similar services for similar monthly fees and call rates. They all pretty much send you a gizmo (called the 'Voip adapter') to get things going. They all count on you having a broadband Internet connection. They all support different setup options depending on how your home network (computers, router, etc.) is setup. They all claim a simple 'plug-n-play' setup and some do indeed come good on that promise.

  

The difference between providers is in the reliability of service, the quality of service, and the quality of tech support.

 

Reliability is about the service almost never experiencing outage and always connecting you to the called number (when was the last time your landline let you down?).  Quality is about having clear sound, no echoes, no delays, etc. Quality tech support is about having a way to readily access a knowledgeable human who can take care of your problem on the first call. If you put all three factors into the equation, it is likely that only a handful of providers will measure up.

 

Based on experience - the following VoIP providers are worth considering:

www.lingo.com www.vonage.com   www.viatalk.com

The author gives Lingo top marks based on experience over the past 12 months. Two adapters, two different 'lines', fax usage, international calling, and all other features work rock-solid. Reliability and quality have been on par with the Verizon landline service that Lingo VoIP replaced. And there has been genuine money savings on a monthly basis for the author's calling pattern which includes a lot of international calls.

 

Money Savings....

As of September 2008, VoIP services are generally marketed like cell phone service with a one-time setup charge followed by several package options involving a monthly fee. VoIP monthly fee is typically in the range of $9.00 to $25.00, depending on minutes usage included and some other features. The one-time setup charge involves service activation fee, shipping charge for the adapter, etc. Most providers offer the adapter itself 'for free' - with the caveat that you sign up for a one-year or so service. Cancellation of service before that period is up entails a non-trivial early termination fee - which essentially appears to be a way for the provider to recover cost of the adapter that they shipped 'for free'. The one-time setup charge is generally in the $20 to $60 range.

 

For the upper end of about $25.00 per month service fee, VoIP providers typically include 'unlimited' amount of calls to all U.S. numbers as well as to numbers in select countries. And offer very attractive rates for other international calls. 'Unlimited' is in quotes because, it is unlimited for all practical purposes but does not mean you can use that line 24X7.

 

So..how does it compare to landline...and where are the savings?

 

Landline also typically involves a monthly fee for which you get so called 'free' local or regional calls and then a per minute charge for long distance and international calls. To compete with VoIP, many of the landline deals appear to include long distance call charges or at least offer them at very attractive per minute rates.

 

Given the above, actual savings will depend on your service provider deals and calling pattern. Typically, VoIP saves you money when you make significant long distance and international calls. One specific example is detailed below (based on actual experience between 2007 and 2008):

  • VoIP provider : Lingo

  • Previous landline provider: Verizon

  • Calling pattern: Significant international calls (over 4 hours per month)

  • Money saved: Average of $80.00 per month

Remember, VoIP setup is most user-friendly when wedded to a cordless phone system and the cost of buying a new cordless phone system if there isn't one in use already, will need to be factored into the equation to get the true cost picture.

 

Tips for achieving reliable VoIP service....

(In addition to having a reliable broadband Internet connection)

  1. Connect the main router that your Internet service provider provides, as well as the VoIP adapter and any other element that comes between the VoIP adapter and the main router (e.g., a switch or a hub or a wireless device) to a UPS power supply. This additional forty or fifty dollar investment goes a long way in assuring that your service doesn't take a hit during thunderstorms and other accidental power interruptions.

  2. The simple 'plug-n-play' setup procedure that your VoIP provider promises initially (and may come good on) almost means that the VoIP adapter uses DHCP protocol with the main router to get its dynamic IP address, DNS server addresses, etc. from the main router in the home. While DHCP based setup is reliable for the most part, assigning a static IP address to the VoIP adapter (along with setting the DNS server addresses to global DNS server addresses) adds an additional level of resiliency against glitches in the home network setup. Unfortunately, this 'conversion' to a static IP address environment requires administrative access into the VoIP adapter - something that requires a some level of technical expertise and will likely mean a tech support call to the VoIP service provider.

 

 

 

 
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