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Free Phone Calls

July 29,2003

By John C. Dvorak

Recently, I packed up my little Cisco ATA 186 Analog Telephone Adapter, along with a compact D-Link DI-604 Ethernet Broadband Router, and checked in to my favorite small hotel in New York City: the Park South on 28th Street. This new boutique gem is located a few steps from a subway entrance and one block from PC Magazine's offices; it loans DVDs, has fabulous pillows, and has free T1 connections in the rooms.

 



It was this last amenity that got my attention when I first discovered the place. I decided to try to use the T1 line to make phone calls. I have Vonage Voip phone service, which comes with a real phone number and links into telco networks via a broadband connection and the ATA 186.

When I arrived at the Park South Hotel, I plugged the D-Link hub into the RJ-45 jack and then plugged the ATA 186 into the hub. I plugged the hotel phone into the ATA 186; I was prepared to buy a small phone if I had to, but the hotel phone worked fine for this experiment.

I lifted the hook expecting to hear a normal dial tone. When you're using Vonage, you get a dial tone and would never know you were not using POTS. In this case, I got no dial tone. But when I plugged the laptop into the hub and went online, I tried again, and voilà! A dial tone.

I made a few calls. Perfect. In fact, the line was cleaner than the one I have at home. I could make unlimited calls from the hotel room. And I could receive calls as though I were at home.

Anyone who would use Vonage in a hotel has long since stopped using the hotel phone anyway. Most people use mobile phones when they travel. Even with the priciest roaming charges, mobile calling is cheaper than the horrid hotel phone rates. Only dummies use hotel phones.

I wonder what the Park South folks would think if they knew people could completely bypass the hotel's phone for all calls. I'm certain that both telco executives and hoteliers are going to be passing this column around with notes of concern scribbled in the margin. But smart hotel operators will see this as an opportunity. I'm a regular at the Park South because of the T1 connection. What's more important than a regular customer?

I suppose that a basic cell-phone plan would be cheaper than my Vonage lash-up. But I still prefer a land line-and this is it. The Vonage IP phone is just the beginning of a revolution in what the telcos call bypass. Within minutes of connecting, I got calls that were initially placed to my home phone and were routed to the Vonage phone. Here's where it gets interesting.

I have a summer house in Washington, and I like to forward my California number to the Washington number when I'm up there. This entails a long-distance charge each time a call is rerouted. But if I were to forward the call to my Vonage number (which is local), then forward the Vonage number to the Washington number, I'd pay no long-distance charges. The routing possibilities are endless.

Since I can take the ATA 186 and D-Link hub anywhere in the world, I can even go back to the Grand Hotel Union in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where I had a free T1 line in my room. There I could hook up and make calls to the U.S. from Europe at no charge. And I could receive calls as if I were at home in California. I have a friend in Paris who does this sort of thing already.

This is the future of telephony, although the telcos would prefer that nothing change. If they would simply bite the bullet and sell people connectivity to the network at a reasonable fee, they could collect money without having to deal with the idiosyncrasies and agonies of the voice call business. They could sell IP phones, too. I see no reason for Cisco not to make an IP phone with the ATA 186 built into a small handset that people could take anywhere, or to make a combo cell phone with this feature. Instead of an RJ-11 connection, it would have an RJ-45 connection.

The next phase of the experiment will be to see how such systems work over makeshift 802.11 wireless networks. What remains to be seen is whether the Web can absorb a lot of voice traffic, if this kind of system becomes popular. And I wonder what dirty tricks the telcos have up their sleeves to thwart such progress.




 
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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 www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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