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October 7, 2005

By Sue Vorenberg

Don't let my phone jack hit you on the way out.

I've joined the digital telephone revolution, and I didn't even have to put on a funny hat and shout "vive le phone" to do it.

In the past month, I've switched my telephone service from $60-a-month Qwest to $25-a-month Vonage.

The funny thing is that I get more features now for $25 a month than I did when I was stuck with the big monopoly, and I still have the same phone number.

Vonage and another company called Net2Phone sell telephone service through your high speed Internet connection. The switch is a lot easier than you might think.

The thought of setting up a phone through the Internet used to make me nervous, until I looked into it. Turns out, they'll send you a router - a thing you can plug into your modem - and it has a normal phone jack in it that you can hook your regular old wall phone into. And the computer doesn't have to be on for the thing to work.

I had a wireless phone system set up in my house already, which made the whole thing even easier. My main phone is plugged into the router jack, and it transmits the phone signal to two other nodes that just have to be plugged into the wall without a jack.

If you have a bunch of phones jacked straight into the wall and you want to switch service, your best bet would be to get a similar wireless phone system so you don't have to worry about phone jacks.

But I digress. The main thing here is service. For my $60 a month with Qwest, I still had to pay long-distance charges, I didn't have voice mail - that costs extra - and I had to pay an additional $5 a month to get low calling rates for England.

For $25 a month with Vonage I get unlimited long-distance calls to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, I get voice mail and call-waiting voice mail for free, and I can call England for 3 cents a minute with no monthly fee.

I can also go online and check my voice mail from any Web browser, and if somebody leaves me a message, Vonage also e-mails it to me in a sound file.

I can go online any time and scroll through a list of every number that's called me and every number I've dialed.

When you sign up, the company mails you the router and you fill out an online form that lets them switch your service - and your current phone number - to their Internet-based service.

They say it takes about 20 days. Mine took about 10.

Your phone number doesn't even drop when it switches. The company gives you a second number in the area code, so you can forward your Qwest phone to it until the switch takes place.

I did encounter one problem when I first set it up. My old RCA modem - and it was about 4 years old - just couldn't take the pressure. The phone service sounded very spotty and kept dropping service because of it.

I gave in and bought a new Motorola Surfboard modem for about $60 and the sound quality and line drop problems went away instantly. That's one Qwest bill well spent.

Another nice thing about Vonage is you can control the quality of your phone service. There's a broadband saver feature, which lets you turn down the voice quality if you aren't getting a zippy feed from Comcast.

In my part of town - the North Valley - Comcast's broadband is very fast, so I've had no problems with that. Newer parts of town, like the Northeast Heights and West Side, might want to check the speed of their service before switching to something like this.

Another thing you can do though, is have the service auto-forward your calls to your cell phone if for some reason your Internet drops. I had to use that when I had the old modem, but I haven't needed it since I got the new one.

The service does have some minor downsides. It's not as high-quality as the signal coming from Qwest. But for $35 less a month, I think it's worth the minor sound loss. I hardly notice it.

Saving money is a beautiful thing. Next month, I might even be able to afford more video games now that I chucked Qwest out the door.

Vive le phone, indeed.

Sue Vorenberg wants to fly a pirate flag over her doorway as she leads the way into the digital revolution, but she's been too busy playing with her new phone service and her vast selection of video games to get around to it.




 
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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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