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Vonage Voip Service

August 23, 2004

By Mathew Ingram

As catch-phrases go, Voice Over Internet Protocol or Voip doesn't exactly sing, which is why so few companies offering it tend to use either the term or the acronym. What they usually say is things like "Use the Internet to make phone calls!" and leave it at that.

It's more than a little confusing, since people have been using the Internet to make phone calls for years now. So what's new about a service such as Vonage? And is it any good?

The U.S. Voip company recently launched a Canadian version of its service, and I took it for a spin.

What you get when you sign up for Vonage is a small box with what looks like a regular Motorola external modem in it, and in many ways that's exactly what it is. In the back it has an Ethernet cable plug-in and two regular phone jacks, as well as a regular power plug-in. You connect it to its power supply and then plug your Ethernet cable into it (from your cable or DSL Internet service), then simply plug a telephone in as well. After you power your cable modem back on, the Motorola Voip unit boots itself up and downloads the software it needs, and you're off.

Vonage supplies you with a special Voip phone number for your new Internet phone, and that's where one of the unique things about voice-over-Internet comes in: you can choose which area code your phone number is in. In other words, even if you live in Toronto you can choose a number that is "local" to the 613 area code, used in Ottawa. This allows you to give relatives or friends in that area code your Voip number to call, and they don't have to dial long distance to reach you.

Even if you choose a primary number in your area code, Vonage will give you another local calling number in a different area code of your choice for only $7.99 (Cdn.) a month.

Making phone calls over the Internet isn't a new thing - geeks have been doing it for years, using applications such as DialPad and Net2Phone. But most of these services only allowed you to talk to other people with the software, not to regular people with a regular phone. Voip services such as Vonage and the recently launched Primus service connect your phone to any other phone, but they send the signals over the Internet. In technical terms, instead of your call being sent over the regular telephone line as an analogue transmission, it is digitized or turned into ones and zeroes and then sent the same way Internet traffic is.

The benefit of this kind of service is that it is cheap - since it essentially piggybacks on existing Internet networks - which allows Vonage and others to offer phone service at fairly low rates. A basic account with Vonage is $19.99 and gives you 500 anytime minutes for use anywhere in Canada and the U.S., with no contract to sign. For $45.99 you get unlimited calling in Canada and the U.S. Anytime.

The service includes voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID and three-way calling. Vonage uses a Web-based configuration tool that allows you to see how many minutes you have used, all your other billing information, and allows you to order special features.

The Web interface also allows you to do things such as having the system alert you by e-mail when you get a new voicemail message, or even listen to your voicemail messages on-line. Vonage also has phone software you can download and install on a laptop so that you can use your Voip account while you're on the road, with any Internet connection. Or you can just take your Motorola modem with you when you go somewhere that has high-speed Internet access, such as hotel, and plug it in the same way you do at home and access your account and make calls. Once you've tried these extra features, it makes using a regular phone seem boring by comparison.

Although some Web-based phone services sound like you are talking on a bad cellphone connection to a remote country somewhere on the other side of the planet, the quality of Vonage's service is almost indistinguishable from regular phone service. Occasionally when someone else was using the Internet connection in our house, I noticed a bit of clicking or light buzzing in the background, and a couple of times there was a faint echo, but nothing worse than I've heard on regular land-line cordless phones. There's also a feature on the Vonage website you can use to restrict the bandwidth used by the service, if you find it interferes with something else you're doing on-line.

Although Vonage is a great service, there are a few things to remember. One is that while Voip calling is cheap, that's partly because you're already paying $45 or so a month for high-speed Internet access - not that this makes it any less attractive, but it's worth keeping in mind. As a result of that, if the power goes out or your cable or DSL service is down, your Voip phone won't work. Regular telephone lines actually supply power to the phone, so they will work even when there is an outage.

Voip also doesn't allow you to call 911, which is something you may not do a lot of, but when you do you probably want it to work. You'll need a regular telephone line for that.
Those caveats aside, the Vonage service was a pleasure to use and extremely easy to set up. If you're thinking of getting a second line for one of your family members or yourself, think about a Voip line. The quality is virtually the same as a regular landline, and the extra features make it even better in some ways than plain old phone service.

The Good: Good voice quality for the most part, easy to set up.

The Bad: Not cheap, when you add the cost of Internet access; no service during power outages; no 911 emergency service.

The Verdict: You may not want to give up your regular phone line, but Vonage's Voip service is very handy.

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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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