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Vonage Makes Phoning Through The Internet Convenient And Cheap

February 26, 2004

By Walter S. Mossberg

If you're sick of your local or long-distance phone company, you now have an alternative: Internet phone calling.

Internet calling can save you money, and allow you to add features and flexibility unheard of in the traditional phone industry.

The idea of making voice calls over the Internet isn't new. For years, some Internet users have been doing this, mainly to save money on international calls. But it was a pretty techie process. You had to use a PC, or a special phone, and find the other person in some special online directory, or by typing in an Internet address. The quality of calls was lousy.

Now, Internet phone calling has come into the mainstream. A New Jersey company called Vonage is selling a service that allows you to use your regular home phone and your current phone number to place calls via the Internet to regular phone numbers anywhere in the world. All you need is a broadband Internet connection.

I've been testing the Vonage service, and I'm impressed. Setup is simple. Just plug in a small black adapter box between your phone and your Internet connection or PC. I used my same old telephone, and the quality of calls was normal. There are a few downsides, but overall, the service worked as advertised and is very good.

Vonage offers three service plans, available at

For $35 a month, you get unlimited local, regional and long-distance calls in the U.S. and Canada.

A $25 plan includes unlimited local and regional calls, plus 500 minutes of long distance.

A $15 basic plan gets you 500 minutes a month of local or long-distance calls. In the latter two plans, additional time costs 3.9 cents per minute.

All three plans include numerous services for which phone companies usually charge extra -- voice mail, call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting, call transfer and three-way calling. International calls are cheap. Not only that, but all calls to another Vonage member are always free, no matter where they are located.

By comparison, in my area, Verizon offers a Freedom Plan with unlimited local and long distance for $50 a month. And it throws in five free features, including voice mail and call waiting. But this plan costs more and offers less than the Vonage service.

Vonage also offers some features the standard phone companies can't touch. For instance, if you don't want to keep your current phone number, you can choose a new one, free of charge, from nearly any area code in the country.

So, you could be in Des Moines, but have a New York City phone number.

And you can move your adapter box to another location, even overseas, and plug it into a phone and a broadband Internet connection. You will still be covered by your same rate plan, and will still appear to be calling from your own phone number at home.

Plus, Vonage offers "virtual phone numbers" for an additional $5 a month each. These extra numbers can have different area codes, but will ring on your regular phone.

So, if you lived in Boston and your mother lived in San Francisco, you could add a virtual San Francisco number and when your mother called you, it'd be a local call.

You can manage your account, see a record of all your calls and even check your voice mail on the Vonage Web site. You can also get your voice mails in the form of e-mail messages with sound files attached.

So, what are the downsides?

If you switch to Vonage, your local 911 emergency service won't be able to automatically determine your location. You have to activate 911 dialing on Vonage's Web site and tell the company your physical location so it can route your 911 calls to the proper authorities. If you move locations with your adapter box, you have to tell Vonage. These changes can take days.

Installation, while usually simple, can be tricky in some situations. Depending on your setup, you may need to change your Internet settings or buy a router -- a box that manages networks. If you don't use cordless phones and want to switch all the extensions in your home to Vonage, you may need to fiddle with the phone wires where they enter the house.

And Vonage numbers aren't listed in the phone book.
Local area codes are available in only 40 U.S. states, so far. For example, Vonage doesn't yet offer local area codes in Cincinnati, Kansas City, Mo., and Albuquerque. You can use Vonage in these places, but only with a phone number from a nonlocal area code.

Phone calls can break up slightly if somebody is doing a heavy Internet task -- like a huge download -- on a PC at the same time. In my tests, these interruptions were very brief and didn't disrupt the call. Vonage calls didn't slow down my Internet connection.

If you have a DSL line from a local phone company, you may not be able to keep your number if you switch to Vonage, due to company policies.

Bottom line: I like Vonage. It's a clever use of the Internet that saves money and adds convenience to daily lives.

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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.

** Certain call types excluded. is not an official Vonage support website & is independently operated.
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