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February 2, 2006

By Keith Schiehl

Anyone who has surfed the Web in the last few months has been hit by a barrage of banner ads telling you to fire your phone company and join the Voip revolution. The primary player in the revolution is Vonage, and they appear everywhere on the Web.

The first question most people ask is "What is VoIP?" (pronounced voy'p).

VoIP is short for Voice over Internet Protocol. The service uses your existing high-speed Internet connection to transmit and receive telephone calls across the Internet, using digital data packets rather than analog signals.

What most people don't realize is that the phone companies have switched to digital years ago for sending calls across their network, and that the only analog link was from your house to the switching station in town.

The next question usually asked is, "How is the quality?"

Typically it is good as or better than traditional service. In fact, because it is digital, Voip sends no data when the other party has stopped talking.

As such, there is such a complete silence on the line that you often think the other caller has been disconnected.

This results in a few, "Hello, still there?" moments in the first days of using the service.

There are several types of Voip services available. Some, such as Skype are used for computer to computer telephone calls, or computer to telephone calls. This service is quite popular with geeks and tech-friendly folk due to its extremely low cost and computer integration. Other services use regular telephone equipment and an adapter to connect to your high-speed Internet service. Vonage is such a service, and the type we will focus on today.

Setting up a service like Vonage is pretty straightforward, even for non-geeks. The requirements for service are a high-speed Internet connection, a Voip adapter and a telephone.

A sign up kit and equipment can be obtained at any big-box store, or directly from Vonage's website www.vonage.ca.

I recommend getting the kit directly from Vonage, as it comes pre-configured for instant plug-and-play activation. The kit comes with a Voip adapter with a built in Linksys router (which doubles as a firewall).

I recently ordered and set up a kit from Vonage and was amazed how it just plain worked, right out of the box. The only downside is waiting five days for the kit to arrive via courier.

The quick connect kits on the other hand are enough to drive non-techs away from the service. The kits require making some fairly technical settings changes (port-forwarding) to your existing router in order for the service to work. This alone can be daunting enough for most to return the box.

The primary draw for most people to using Voip service is cheap long distance calling. My wife and I have family and friends all across North America, and our monthly long distance bill easily exceeded $70 a month. Add the Telus bill for another $35 a month, for a total of $105 a month.

Vonage's premium plan offers phone service plus unlimited calling anywhere in North America for a fixed rate of $39.99 per month. As such, we could save $65 a month, or nearly $800 a year.

Even with such potential savings, we resisted for nearly a year because Vonage did not offer local telephone number transfer service until a couple of months ago. Now it was a no-brainer. We could keep our local number, keep our white pages listing and dump our Telus service.

Another attraction of Voip services, such as Vonage, is the wealth of features included in the flat fee. Caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, call forwarding and more are all included.

A very cool geek feature from Vonage is the ability to receive e-mail notification when voice-mail messages arrive. The e-mail details the date, time and caller's telephone number. Plus, you can actually check your voicemail online from any Internet enabled computer with a set a speakers.

Of course, there are some issues to the service which may keep some people from signing up right away.

The most talked-about issue related to Voip service is 911 service. Local telephone service 911 calls identify your location when you make an emergency call. If you get disconnected, emergency officials can still locate you and respond immediately. Voip service uses a national 911 call centre that routes the call to your local 911 provider.

Doing so, however, does not provide your location to authorities. As such, you must be able to identify your location verbally. This may not be ideal if you are unable to speak, or if very small children are making the call. Vonage is working to make the system more integrated with your local 911 services.

Another issue is the reliability of your Internet provider for your phone service to work. If your Internet is down (or your service is disconnected) then your Voip phone will be down. You have to ask yourself how frequently your Internet is down, and whether such down-time is acceptable for you phone.

Power outages will affect service, but protection can be had by using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to provide backup power to the Cable/DSL modem and Voip adapter.

The revolution has begun. Vonage has a leg up on the the other providers, but look for Shaw, Telus and others to provide Voip very soon. Have fun and Voip me sometime.




 
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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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