Vonage VoIP Broadband Phone Service : 08/15/2002
By Carlos E.
'Digital Voice' is a VoIP service provided by Vonage.com
In Summary, Vonage is a local/long-distance telephone carrier like Verizon/AT&T/MCI with all the usual add-on services and some extras. However, instead of using the regular PSTN network, Vonage uses the Internet. It does this by using a protocol called Voice over IP or VoIP, for short.
I have included a summary below that helps explain VoIP for those not familiar with it.
3.1 What is VoIP?
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. As the term says VoIP tries to let go voice (mainly human) through IP packets and, in definitive through Internet. VoIP can use accelerating hardware to achieve this purpose and can also be used in a PC environment.
3.2 How does it work?
Many years ago we discovered that sending a signal to a remote destination could have be done also in a digital fashion: before sending it we have to digitalize it with an ADC (analog to digital converter), transmit it, and at the end transform it again in analog format with DAC (digital to analog converter) to use it.
VoIP works like that, digitalizing voice in data packets, sending them and reconverting them in voice at destination. Digital format can be better controlled: we can compress it, route it, convert it to a new better format, and so on; also we saw that digital signal is more noise tolerant than the analog one (see GSM vs. TACS).
TCP/IP networks are made of IP packets containing a header (to control communication) and a payload to transport data: VoIP use it to go across the network and come to destination.
Voice (source) - - ADC - - - - Internet - - - DAC - - Voice (dest)
3.3 What is the advantages using VoIP rather PSTN?
When you are using PSTN line, you typically pay for time used to a PSTN line manager company: more time you stay at phone and more you'll pay. In addition you couldn't talk with other that one person at a time.
In opposite with VoIP mechanism you can talk all the time with every person you want (the needed is that other person is also connected to Internet at the same time), as far as you want (money independent) and, in addition, you can talk with many people at the same time. If you're still not persuaded you can consider that, at the same time, you can exchange data with people are you talking with, sending images, graphs and videos.
3.4 Then, why everybody doesn't use it yet?
Unfortunately we have to report some problem with the integration between VoIP architecture and Internet. As you can easy imagine, voice data communication must be a real time stream (you couldn't speak, wait for many seconds, then hear other side answering): this is in contrast with the Internet heterogeneous architecture that can be made of many routers (machines that route packets), about 20-30 or more and can have a very high round trip time (RTT), so we need to modify something to get it properly working.
To begin, I have to say that all interactions with Vonage so far have been really good. I have called to ask questions, and they have not only answered quickly, but also on one occasion they actually called back in the time that they originally quoted.
I signed (online) up for the unlimited calling plan (local + USA long-distance for $40/month) and requested that they send me a router as part of my order. My total initiation bill was roughly $120. I don't have the itemized bill handy, but I do remember the router being
Because Vonage charges you the first month of service as part of the initial bill, if you don't require the router, you can assume your bill will be around $80. After this initial fee, your bill should drop to just $40/month without tax. Either way, it is still cheaper than what I was paying for my present local+long-distance carrier here in NYC. With minimal calling, but all the features that Vonage offers as part of their $40 plan, my old carrier charged me roughly $50 just to have the service, and then from there I had to pay long-distance calls at a rate of 8 cents a minutes. Either way you look at it, I minimized my cost to a fixed $40/month rather than my old variable cost of y=$50+x(.08) where Y is the Total Bill and X the minutes used in long-distance calls.
I received my box with all that I needed to start using the service in 2 days (very impressive and very quick). Putting it together was as easy as plugging in the cables and lifting the phone up to talk. It really was a very simple process with absolutely no software configuration, just plug and play.
So now that you can see that there is a cost benefit to using the Vonage service, let's look at the Pros and Cons of the service as I've experienced them so far.
Great Web Interface-
Their interface allows you to track who has called you and whom you have called. Call times + duration are listed, along with the date. Your account information is also listed.
When you have voicemail, you can go to the website and check to see when the voicemail was left, and also listen to the message online. It just launches Windows Media player (don’t know about Mac compatibility, but will test later) and you can hear your messages online. Great to retrieve messages when you are away internationally and have an Internet connection.
212 Area Codes ARE Available-
Unlike cell-phones where no 212 area code numbers are available. In addition, when you move, you don’t have to call to change your location, it automatically follows you.
No dialing problems-
I love not having to worry about where I’m dialing and how long I have to worry about being on the phone for.
The call quality is surprisingly clear. I will say that at times people have told me I sounded like I was on a cell phone. Perhaps this was due to some network congestion, but overall it seems that it is in par with a regular landline. If you use your broadband link to upload something while on a conversation, it can adversely affect the call quality.
Advanced Call Forwarding-
Instead of letting your phone calls go to your Vonage voicemail, for example, you can set it to go to your cell phone after 10 seconds of ringing. I find this feature particularly useful, for I don’t have to check 3 different voicemail boxes, just my cell phone’s.
Private number, no telemarketing calls-
Because the number you are assigned is a private one, much like a cell phone, you shouldn’t get any telemarketing calls (unless you sign yourself up by accident). I have not received any to date.
Vonage does have its disadvantages, but they are specific to only some usage scenarios. In other words, if you don’t smoke, then it doesn’t matter if your car has ashtrays. Likewise, if you don’t need or care for some of the features that a regular phone has, which Vonage does differently, then it doesn’t really matter. That said; let’s look at some of the issues.
The biggest disadvantage in my opinion, and not at all Vonage’s fault, is that because it rides on the Internet, it is subject to whatever plagues the Internet and your ISP. So, if your ISP has a knack for losing service, your phone will also not work. If your ISP has very high traffic loads that affect your regular Internet usage, this will also affect your voice traffic.
Personally, I have not had an issue with my ISP, but I do know that ISPs don’t have the uptime requirement that regular phone lines do. For example, your regular PSTN phone should work even if you lose power in your house, but by having your Vonage phone go through the internet, it will be susceptible to any power or service outages that you or your ISP suffer. This may not be that important, though, if this phone line is only for your kids to chat on.
Security wise, VoIP does have the capability of being ‘sniffed’ in that someone could hear your conversation if they were adept hackers. This is not to say it is extremely easy, but it is something that is possible. Don’t get a false sense of security with your regular phone either, though, there are and have always been a fair number of phone-tapping incidents. However, if you conduct extremely sensitive business over your phone, you should perhaps consider some other method of communication that has less probability of interception. For all of those that just talk to friends, it’s probably not something that we need to worry about too much.
Another disadvantage that Vonage has is that it does not support E911 or some 900-type numbers. I can’t seem to find the place in their website where they specify these, but I THINK regular 911 works (I’m not going to call just to find out), and the other numbers you can’t call (such as the 900 numbers), I don’t use.
Lastly, a minor disadvantage that Vonage has is that not all state area codes are available as of now. If you live outside of one of the states that they have numbers for, you would have to get an out-of-state number. Check at the bottom of this review for the link with the top ten questions, which include numbers presently available.
A point that will hopefully not become a disadvantage is that Vonage is a small company, and that like any other company now, has to suffer through tough economic times like the rest of us. Let’s just hope that they have a solid enough financial foundation to help them weather any economic downturn.
In summary, I think that Vonage is a great concept and great service. It makes a great second home-phone particularly if you have a home office that requires you to have long conference calls, or if you have teenagers in the house that like to chat for long hours.
I have presently reduced my old PSTN/POTS local phone to just an incoming-calls/emergency phone and now use the Vonage phone for all outgoing calls. Although I do have a cell-phone, my reception is not great, so having a home phone is a necessity.
I feel that the features that Vonage offers are great and they work reasonably well for my needs.
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