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Vonage, a VT2142 and a RTP300, My Experiences - A Detailed Review
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Salt Lake City: impressions after several months
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The Current Quality of Low-Cost Calls Over the Net


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Voip a Dope

The Current Quality of Low-Cost Calls Over the Net

April 28, 2003

By Brendan I. Koerner

Q: I recently read a newspaper bit on low-cost phone calls over the Internet. Seems like there was some chatter about this in the late '90s, but the quality was always too poor to make it fly. Is the new crop any better, or is this just residual dotcom hype?

Good memory, dear reader, as there was a considerable to-do in the boom years about Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP). The idea's that, instead of funneling calls through cumbersome, pricey phone switches, you can convert voices into digital data and transmit 'em like any e-mail. The sticking point has always been the fuzziness of the resulting calls-sort of like speaking through a cell while immersed in a vat of Jiffy Pop. No longer, as you'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a traditional call and a VoIP'er nowadays. There are still a few drawbacks, but not enough to scare away the penny-pinchers who're sick of paying exorbitant amounts to call Wisconsin, Macedonia, or Queens.



Voip has always been a world-beater of a concept. Whereas old-style calls require a dedicated digital link for every conversation, the next wave chops up your voice into "packets" of digital data. Those packets are reassembled in the appropriate order on the other end, and converted back into analog voice signals. Since Internet traffic isn't regulated, Voip providers needn't pay zillions to phone companies for the "privilege" of using their wires. Guess who benefits from the cost savings? Yes, my consumer friends. You.

A few years back, Mr. Roboto would've advised against taking the nearly free ride. He recalls using Net2Phone (net2phone.com) and concluding that the sound quality was only slightly less grating than a rhesus monkey's screech. Truly oddball things occasionally happened, too, like the packets getting reassembled in the wrong order. Fun if you're a Junior Jumble enthusiast, but an annoyance for the other 99.9 percent of the population.

Net2Phone's latest CommCenter software, which can be downloaded for free, solves a lot of those issues. The bummer is that you'll likely need to jack a headset into your computer; the service still doesn't work with conventional phones, though you can invest in what's called an Internet phone. A phone that runs through your USB port goes for as little as $30, though mediocre is too kind a word for the sound quality.

Mr. Roboto prefers Vonage's DigitalVoice service (vonage.com), with a monthly rate of $40 to call anywhere in the U.S. or Canada; international rates are piddling, like six cents a minute to Chile. For the flat fee, plus a 3 percent tax, you get voice mail, call waiting, and other assorted goodies that Verizon makes you pay through the nose for. Best of all, you can use your standard handset; Vonage tosses in a free adapter. (EarthLink is reselling Vonage's service under the Unlimited Voice name, available to its broadband customers at unlimitedvoice.com.)

Before getting too weak in the knees about paying eight cents a minute to ring Jakarta, consider the caveats. Whenever your Internet connection flickers out, your phone's unusable, so patrons of dodgy ISPs may be frustrated often. You'll need to buy a router in order to surf the Web while you talk; a serviceable one is about $40. And though the quality's more or less up to snuff, a hiccup in bandwidth will still garble your speech.

Wait if you'd like, but odds are you'll be VoIP'ing sooner or later. Mr. Roboto just returned from Tokyo, the ultimate technology bellwether, where Internet calling's hotter than Ryoko Hirosue (ryoko-hirosue.org). Stateside, the Baby Bell phone companies know which way the wind's blowing, and have asked the FCC to start regulating Voip calls. Here's to praying they won't succeed, and that the days of the 10.6 cent Verizon local call-not to mention the 30-cent-a-minute call to Minsk-will get dinosaured shortly.

Speaking of the Land of the Rising Sun, Mr. Roboto's always amazed by those I'm-all-about-the-art American stars who shamelessly hawk facial creams and sodas on Japanese TV. Share the chuckles by viewing such ads at the brilliant Japander.com, the site that Harrison Ford (Kirin lager) and Winona Ryder (Subaru) certainly wish death upon.



 
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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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