April 30, 2005

Vonage Is Great

I ordered Vonage not a week ago and it arrived today. For those who don't know, it's a VoIP phone system - Voice over Internet Protocol or just Voice over IP. The great thing about VoIP is that you don't need to hassle with the phone plugs in the wall and you don't need anything but cable-internet or DSL. Of course, if the Internet or the power goes out or flickers then you can lose the call, but that's not a huge problem nowadays.

Vonage assigns you a phone number, and you can pick an area code from virtually anywhere in the country (except a few places) even if you don't live there. I picked an area code 3,000 miles away from where I live. This makes calls to and from people in that area code local, and therefore free. If you get the $24.99 plan then you get unlimited calling. I got that one, so I don't have to watch the clock and because I tend to use the phone quite a bit.

I already had a DSL and a wireless router hooked up, and I just hooked the broadband router they sent me in after the wireless router. This allows the laptop to use the wireless router feature and allows the phone to use the second router for VoIP. It was easy; I didn't even have to use the install CD or do anything online beyond what I had already done in the ordering'registration process. After hooking it up, I only needed to wait a few minutes and I got a dial-tone. Subsequently, I activated 911 service, which some VoIP services do not offer, by entering in the address.

It works quite well, with excellent sound quality. In fact, since I needed to use a little filter plug to scrub out the DSL on the phone before, the VoIP is an improvement in my phone's sound quality.

So if you don't understand, it's simple. You pick a phone plan (they have maybe two or three options), order the thing and then they send it to your house. You receive a box with promo stuff and instructions, plus a linksys router. [You MUST have cable or DSL high speed internet for it to work.] You plug the modem into the router, the router into the computer, the phone into the router, and then the router into the wall. Wait a few minutes and pick up the phone - you now have a dial tone.

No doubt most people have to use the installation CD; I have had various routers and modems going into my computer, including broadband routers, so I may have had the necessary files installed. The process was perfectly easy.

I use my phone service extensively, and I have used both the Verizon Freedom package and the MCI The Neighborhood deals. They're both advertised in the 45+ dollars range, and with taxes and so forth come out to over $60 or $70 in the end. The Sprint unlimited calling plan has been canceled, I assume due to failure to return profits on it. Since phone service here is Sprint-only, I was left without an unlimited calling plan. I regularly use large volumes of calling minutes in a month for long distance, so unlimited calling is by far the most economical way for me to pay for phone usage. VoIP systems are in a far better position to provide unlimited-calling plans, apparently, and so my switch to Vonage makes sense.

It also has an option to keep your existing, non-VoIP phone number (which is not by itself extraordinary) and of course if you move then my understanding is your Vonage phone number will follow you wherever you go, provided you have cable/DSL internet.

Since people seem to have trouble understanding the point of Vonage, or perhaps I'm not very good at explaining it, I will stress that this is a perfect substitute for regular phone service, and that the people you call don't need to own a computer, only a phone. You, of course, have to possess cable/DSL internet access, though Vonage and most VoIPs don't need the computer to be on to function, nor do they interfere with the use of the Internet. It's also far less expensive; it can cost as little $14.99 a month for Vonage service.

What I find interesting is how it fits into the changing personal communications landscape, and how it may ultimately signal the obsolescence of phone lines entirely. After all, if one cable to your home could bring television, internet and phone service, why would companies bother with lines that can only do two of the three? Of course, it will take some time to get to the point where people can readily take advantage of the technological shift. There will continue to be old people who do not have broadband internet and would be unable to use VoIP. But it does suggest that there's far less of a long-term future in phone lines than cable-based lines.

Of course, the whole thing might be mute if cell companies can just simplify their billing plans, expand their coverage (my Sprint PCS gets a weak signal in maybe 5% of this house, spread out in random patches, and is dead in the rest) and improve their reception quality. Eventually they could replace land-line phones, which appears to be the current trend, and pre-empt VoIP before it really gets going. Of course, if you can't get a damn signal in your own house it's worthless.

VoIP is by far superior to all my other options. Vonage gives me the plan I need at a far more reasonable rate than I've ever seen anywhere, with high marks from techies for reliability, and it works in my own house. Maybe personal phones that follow every person from place to place are the wave of the future, but VoIP sounds better, works where I need it, and won't require the plundering of a small island nation to cover the cost of the calls I want to make.

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