I finally had the opportunity to try Vonage VoIP service that seems to be the latest craze. You know it must be reaching a high point of popularity when your grandma is asking you if she should switch to a VoIP service to help cut down on her long distance bill. Well, unfortunately grandma, you need to get some internet access before you can try this service out. But the idea did get me thinking - how well does it work? Does it really save money? Assuming my grandma actually did have broadband internet, would it have worked for her?
So, I went down the local CompUSA and bought the Linksys Vonage adaptor. I got home, plugged it in, and went through their signup process. Setup was fairly fast and easy. Plugged the adaptor into my router (which happened to be a Linksys wireless G router), plugged my phone into the adaptor, followed the activation process on their website, then waited until the account was all setup (a few hours) and was good to go.
How well did it work? I proceeded to call my grandma to give this service a trial run. Not bad. Voice quality was fairly decent. It did break up briefly on me a few times, other times I could hear the person on the other end of the phone but they couldn't hear me. After using it for a few more times it would drop calls. I suspect many of these issues were with my internet connection but that defiantly plays into how well VoIP works. Reminded me of quality you get from cell phones.
So if its not quite regular phone quality, is it still worth it? The savings seems to be the biggest reason to use it. I picked the unlimited long distance plan which was $24.99 per month. This should make it easy to keep in touch with family and friends from all over. Compared to regular phone service, and depending on how much you use your phone, this could be significant savings. This seems to be the biggest marketing point. In addition to this though, it offers lots of services that you are afraid to use on regular phone service because they increase your bill so quickly. Vonage comes with lots of great free services including; caller ID, voicemail, 3 way calling, call transfers, repeat dialing, call return, etc. As I played with features, I found that I could check my voicemail the normal way, or by logging into the web site and playing them on my computer. I've always known about call return, 3-way calling, repeat dialing, and call transfers, but could only use them sparingly as many resulted in per use fees. No longer the case with Vonage. I could start giving out my home phone number and have it forward to my cell if I wasn't at home. I could figure out who keeps calling, but never leaves a message. I could get a hold of that friend whos line always seemed to be busy. All without having to worry about per use fees.
Vonage also provides some other interesting features I can't get with regular phone service. I can take my Vonage adaptor with me anywhere with internet access and use it just like I was at home. This lets you use your unlimited long distance even if I was on a trip. Also, I can pick a phone number from anywhere in the United States. So even though I live in Seattle, nothing says I can't have a phone number from California. Great if you want to allow a specific area to be able to call you without having to call long distance. You can add additional numbers to your line also (additional monthly fees apply), so you could have a Seattle phone number and a California number on the same phone.
Vonage isn't without its issues though. My phone service now became tied to me having internet access and power. If either one of those failed, I would be unable to make any calls. Being that I also have a cell phone, this isn't as big an issue for me, but relying exclusively on Vonage would make me a little weary. Specifically for my grandma, I would be concerned she would not be able to call 911 in an emergency. Which also brings up another issue, you have to make sure to update your account with your current address or 911 services won't be able to find you.
What does the future bring? It’s hard to say. I assume if it catches on, states will want to start applying all the same taxes they apply to regular phone service to your Vonage bill. For now though, I will enjoy my inexpensive, feature rich phone service.
Overall, I would recommend this service to friends with broadband. Its got its quarks, but features and pricing help to make up for that.