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Phone Home

Vonage In Print News

PC, Phone Home

September 12, 2004

By Art Janik

New technology that merges your phone and your computer — called voice over Internet protocol, or Voip — is becoming more accessible, and easier to use, for New York callers.

Making telephone calls over the Internet isn't anything new — the technology was already in use in the late '90s with dial-up computers, allowing users to make, for example, long distance phone calls without paying long distance prices.

But the services were primitive, and broadband connections such as cable or DSL weren't widespread.

"Most services in the past were aimed at outbound long-distance users . . . but the dial-up Internet sound quality was atrocious, worse than a bad walkie-talkie," said Daryl Schoolar, a senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR.

Now, as broadband has expanded, more users can place and receive Internet telephone calls with a standard 10-digit number through a high-speed online connection and a special telephone adapter.

In-Stat/MDR projects approximately 682,000 Voip users by the end of this year, with seven million by 2008. He said he expects typical adopters to be young, tech-savvy people and small business owners who need an inexpensive phone system.

The biggest advantage for Voip users is cost, since most services charge a flat monthly rate for all calls, whether local or long distance. But Voip also allows special features, including voice mail that can be sorted just like e-mail and conference calls that are arranged with the click of a mouse.

There is a plethora of Voip to choose from, ranging from smaller independent services such as Vonage, Packet8 and Broadvox to offerings from the traditional phone giants, among them Verizon's Voicewing and AT&T's Callvantage.

Cable companies such as Cablevision and Comcast are also starting to roll out Voip services to cable modem users, though they have smaller footprints.

Residential Voip connects a phone to a DSL/cable modem via a special telephone adapter, which then converts the voice signal from a telephone handset into a digital signal that travels over the Internet. The adapter also converts inbound signals, allowing others to call a Voip number as if they were calling a standard phone line.

Since the voice signals don't travel over tradi tional telephone wires, these providers are free of federal taxes and tariffs imposed on traditional landlines. As a result, a subscriber these days can get a Voip pack age cheap.

These bundles, ranging from $19.95 to $39.95, usually offer un limited local and long- distance calls in the U.S. and Canada, and already include otherwise pre mium land- line services such as voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding, con ference calling and call blocking.

Additionally, since the Voip service is tied in with the com puter, users can also check their voicemails online as sound files and send and receive them as attachments to their e-mails.

The Voip provider user Web sites also allow for excellent online account management and address book features, such as clicking on a hyperlink to activate a phone call.

Although the quality of the sound depends on your broadband provider, for the most part users generally cannot tell the difference between a standard call and a Voip call.

"The services today are very high-quality," said Diane Myers, an analyst at Stratecast Partners. "They vary from time to time, from provider to provider, but the quality for the most part exceeds what you can get on a mobile phone."

Although dependent on provider and location, Voip users can keep their local area codes for their new services. In addition, since Voip numbers are not tied to the physical location of the customer, a user can set up an additional "virtual" telephone number with an area code local to a region where he/she may have family, friends or other contacts.

"If you're a snowbird in New York City that spends six months in Miami per year, providers can give you a phone number local to New York so that people can call you without paying long distance," Myers said.

In addition, some pro viders also give subscrib ers the option of "port ing," or transferring, their existing tele phone numbers to their new Voip ac counts.

Nevertheless, Voip does not necessarily spell the end of traditional phones as we know it. For one, broadband users who connect via DSL still need that landline. Also, 911 service is limited since an emergency call center cannot automatically detect where a call originates. A Voip adapter can be connected anywhere there is broadband service and instead relies on an address form submitted by the Voip user.

Although analysts expect the service to go mainstream in the near future, Myers said VoIP's major competition will come from the cellular services, which already offer competitively priced packages with many of the same features included with the Voip services.

"There are already a number of people who already use their mobile phone as their primary line and they're used to it, so why should they set something else up?" she said.

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

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HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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