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Now You Can Phone Home Through The Net

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Now You Can Phone Home Through The Net

November 22, 2004

By Kim Komando and Ted Rybka

Using your computer and Internet connection to make local and long-distance calls has been getting a lot of attention lately. People are enticed by the savings offered by voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and the ability to use a regular telephone. But before making the switch, you should weigh the pros and cons.

Most Voip providers charge a monthly fee of $20 to $30 for unlimited local and long-distance calling anywhere in the United States and sometimes Canada. You also receive a host of features that would normally cost extra, such as call forwarding, voice mail, caller ID and call waiting.

There are enhanced features, too. Many providers will forward your voice mail to an e-mail account. There is a super version of call forwarding that sends calls to five or so different phones. It will ring them one at a time or all five simultaneously.

Although Voip is still in its infancy, there are a number of companies providing service, such as AT&T, Packet8, VoicePulse and Vonage. The quality is better than a cell phone and often matches traditional phone service. But there is a potential for dropped calls similar to cell phone service.

To get started, you'll need a broadband connection such as cable or DSL. That's because your voice is translated into data and takes up some bandwidth.

You can talk on the phone while using the Internet. To do that, you'll need a router. Both the computer and the phone connect to the router. This is no different than networking two or more computers.

The telephone connects to the Internet with an adapter. That is provided for free or a nominal fee by the Voip provider. The whole thing is not as simple as plugging a phone into a jack, but it's fairly painless.

If you've had the same phone number for 20 years, you probably can keep it. But the process for switching over can take days or, sometimes, weeks. During the transition, you may want to have two telephones, one connected to the Internet and the other the traditional service. You can make outbound calls on the Internet, but take inbound calls over the traditional service.

Signing up with a new number has advantages. Most service providers allow you to choose any area code. You also can use the area code you live in for your main number and add a second phone number with a different area code for a nominal fee (about $5). This second phone number would ring on the same phone. If you live in Seattle but most of your friends and family live in Chicago, they could call you for free.

With all of these advantages, there are some serious drawbacks.

Setting up extension phones is difficult. You can connect a cordless telephone to the adapter and then purchase expansion handsets (about $70 each) for use in other rooms. Or, if you want to continue using the phone jacks installed in your house, you can hire an electrician to do some rewiring. Either way, it's an extra expense.

In many cases, Internet connections to 911 are difficult or impossible. You may have to dial police or fire departments directly.

Also, your home alarm system, TiVo, DirecTV and any other household item that uses a traditional telephone connection might not work. And, if your broadband connection fails or you have a power outage, you will have no telephone service.
Nonetheless, Voip offers some real benefits. If you spend a lot of time on long-distance, for instance, and can accept its shortcomings, you can save money.

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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.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

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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