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Broadband Expands Home Phone Options

May 5, 2004

By Walt Zwirko

Voip (voice over Internet protocol) is the latest advance in personal communications. While not really a new technology, Voip has only recently moved into the mainstream with the introduction of low-cost boxes to connect your home telephone to the World Wide Web.

Computer Corner tested low-cost home phone service from Vonage and AT&T CallVantage. Either can be used in conjunction with a broadband cable or DSL connection to replace your traditional telephone service.

The primary attraction to Internet phone service is price. I now pay about $50 a month for unlimited basic local phone service. Long distance is extra.

Vonage offers unlimited local and regional calling plus 500 minutes of long distance service to the U.S. and Canada for $24.99; unlimited long distance is just $10 more. There's even a basic $14.99 monthly rate for 500 minutes of local calls.

AT&T CallVantage service is $39.99 a month for unlimited local and long distance calling. New subscribers get the first six months for $19.99.

Both Vonage and CallVantage require a piece of hardware known as a telephone adapter (TA). Do-it-yourself instructions are provided with simple diagrams for connecting the TA to a broadband cable or DSL modem.

The Vonage procedure was easier; all that was needed was to connect the cables and wait for the Motorola brand TA to be automatically activated. It took about 15 minutes.
I had some problems installing AT&T's hardware. After connecting the D-Link TA, it must be activated by logging in to a special Web page.

Apparently, I didn't have the right password.
Getting a replacement password was a challenge, because AT&T doesn't offer 24-hour customer phone support (Vonage does) and I was calling after hours.

I tried a few more things and eventually got CallVantage operational, but it took about 45 minutes.

You make and receive calls just as you would with a regular phone line, but adding a digital dimension provides new features and services.

For example, both Vonage and AT&T include enhanced voice mail. Not only can you dial in and listen to it the traditional way; you can also go to your customized Web page to hear any voice mail message through your computer speakers. The Web-based interface lets you listen in wherever you have access to the Internet.

You also get a detailed online listing of calls made and received, and you can set your account to forward calls to another number.

With Vonage, you can choose any available area code for your account. If most of your relatives live in Seattle, for instance, you can set your account up with a local Seattle number-even if you live in Texas.

Both services will let you transfer your existing home phone number to your Internet phone service account.

In my tests at home using a cable modem connection, I found that the voice quality for both AT&T and Vonage service could be choppy at times, but was always intelligible.
Although both offer very similar features, AT&T advises against hooking its CallVantage service into existing telephone wiring. The company instead suggests using cordless phones that support multiple handsets. Similarly, AT&T warns that CallVantage cannot be used with alarm systems.

Vonage says you can do either as long as you are careful.
And while you can place 911 calls using an Internet phone, those calls won't automatically identify your location to dispatchers as emergency calls made using traditional phones or cellular phones now do. You must also register your address so that your call will go to the correct Public Safety Answering point.

Another limitation: Internet phones won't work when the power goes out. Traditional telephone service has battery backup power so it can usually be used independently of an electrical outage.

If you need its features (and you can accept its limitations), Internet phone service is something you should seriously consider.

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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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