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Reviewing Vonage & VTech VOIP


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February 7, 2006

By Greg Gazin

VOIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, the ability to have your phone calls transmitted over the Internet instead of through a traditional phone system is gaining in popularity as the technology evolves and broadband or high-speed Internet access becomes so readily available.

Realistically, to configure a Broadband Telephone System you need some basic technical knowledge. One Voip provider, Vonage Canada www.vonage.ca designed a simple solution so you don't need to be a total geek to get a dial tone. Teaming up with phone-maker VTech they created an all-in-one-box solution- the VTech IP 8100-2 Broadband Cordless phone system. (MSRP $200, with $65 credit after 2 months of service)

Being a heavy "landline", cell phone and Internet user, I was eager to take this system for a test drive.

One Big Box

Inside the box you'll find a base unit, Ethernet cables, wall mount brackets, belt clips, a Quick Start Guide with step by step instructions, user documentation on CD and 2 cordless handsets with their own charging cradles.

The base unit is the transmitter/receiver for the phones. It interfaces with your Internet connection by using one of the two colour-coded Ethernet ports depending on whether you are hooking up to a router [WAN; yellow cable] or directly to your computer [PC/LAN; blue cable]. The base has a message waiting indicator, a ready/in-use light and a page button to contact the handsets.

The handsets operate on the 5.8Ghz bandwidth so they won't interfere with your wireless router. These elegant compact handsets are larger than a non-flip cell but smaller than many other phone handsets. Some features include: a 3-line display, Caller-ID, Call log, phone book and the oh-so-needed mute button. You can transfer calls or signal another handset. Call timer is displayed once the "ON" button is selected. The built-in microphone and speaker yielded excellent results. One of the better speakerphones systems I've come across.


To add to your hands-free enjoyment, you can plug in a standard headset or stand the phone upright on your desk. The only very minor miss here, I thought, was the lack of a charging indicator on the cradle.

You can add up to 2 more handsets to the VTech IP 8100-2 ($99.95 ea.) but the system supports only a single phone line. The 8100-2 is designed to work exclusively with Vonage. Consequently, you cannot use them on a regular landline, as there is no RJ-11 interface capability - a regular phone jack.

Account Activation

The unit I received was preconfigured with a trial demo account, but to activate your account you will need to configure your base with their installation wizard using a browser like Internet Explorer, Mozilla or Safari and activate your account via the web. (Plans range from under $20 for 500 anytime minutes local/long distance to $39.99 for personal unlimited Canada/US to $69.95 for businesses with a free fax line.)

To dial long distance, the "1" is not needed. For local calls, the area code is optional, but if you omit it, your caller may encounter strange results on their display. A local call to my Brother yielded a "California" number on his display.

Can They Hear Me Now?

Now the biggest issue facing broadband telephony has been voice quality, so at first I was somewhat apprehensive. For the most part, my calls sounded no different from my regular cordless phone, albeit this 5.8GHZ VTech performed much better than my 900Mhz VTech. However, there were some instances where background noise and occasional echo on the line became somewhat irritating, no worse than cellphones at times. In 2 months, I had the line drop only twice during a call.

During my test, I did engage in a number of downloads while speaking on the phone. I did not notice any real degradation of the phone quality or a reduction in the download speeds. This may not be the case if you are a heavy bandwidth user.

VOIP relies on an Internet connection. So if you lose power to your system, or Internet connection is interrupted, you cannot make or receive calls. With Vonage you can set up a Network Availability number that your calls will be forwarded to in the event your network is down or your or your base unit is not plugged in.

Dialing 911

With a traditional phone service your phone line is attached to a physical location. With Vonage, or any other broadband system, your phone is portable to any place with high-speed Internet. (You can even take your system on holidays with you and get calls at your hotel...if you want to) Therefore to set up 911, you'll need to pre-designate, by filling in a short, the physical location of your line. If you move, you must resubmit this information and changes could take a few days.

When dialing 911, your call is not routed to the same local emergency response centre, as you would expect. Calls are routed to a national location, where they are verified and routed to the appropriate local location. Vonage's 411 services also differ but include enhanced features such as Canada/US & Mexico, time, movie horoscopes and more. Full details are available from the provider.

When you set up your account, you can select the area code you want to use, so if you just moved to Vancouver from Toronto you can likely keep your 416 phone number. Alternately, for $7.99, you can add a virtual phone number with another area code so you can have the best of both worlds. For businesses, you can set up a presence in another area code. In fact two weeks ago, Vonage added support for virtual phone numbers for Austria, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy for $12.99/month. So your Grandmother, who lives in Rome, can reach you in Canada for free.

Account/Call Management System

With Vonage, you can manage and view your account on-line. You can change billing information, update credit card info when you want without having to sit on hold listening to background music or commercials. You can track both received and placed calls in real time including their caller-id, as well as customize your line to call forward immediately or select a time from 2-50 seconds if the call is not answered.

With Vonage you have 3 options to retrieve your voicemail. You can dial *123 on your phone; Log on to the Internet and listen to your messages or have them e-mailed to you as a notification or attachment.

Shall I VOIP?

I admit I like the unlimited long-distance feature, free conference calling and the price is right. The ease of having a virtual number in a different area code is very appealing. There is also something to be said about having the flexibility for voicemail retrieval and having the ability to view and update my account in real time without having to wait a month for my bill or be at the mercy of someone at a call centre.

For me 911 is not an issue at the office, but for someone it may be a different story.

So the question begs asking - shall I VOIP? Or better yet, would I abandon all my landlines in favour of a broadband system? The answer is - not yet! Having multiple phone lines, I would certainly be willing to replace one line right now and 8100-2 would certainly fit that need. As for the others, only time will tell.

For more information and a more comprehensive list of other features, visit www.vonage.ca.




 
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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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