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Summary:

VoIP has some major advantages over traditional landline phones. First, typically you can call phones in the US and Canada for one monthly flat rate. Also, international calls can be made very cheaply. Included services with your flat rate service include: call waiting, call forwarding, online enabled voice mail, CallerID, and many more. Whereas conventional phone companies charge you individually for each of these services, VoIP providers give them to you for one flat rate.

Where do you begin if you’d like to use your broadband connection to lower your phone bill dramatically? Lets walk through some of the options.

A common misnomer about Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is that it requires you to be using a headset, tethered to your computer.  This is simply untrue as modern VoIP services and solutions use either a) normal corded and cordless phones or b) a specialized phone that resembles a cordless phone or cell phone – just modified to utilized VoIP technology.

VoIP has some major advantages over traditional landline phones. First, typically you can call phones in the US and Canada for one monthly flat rate.  Also, international calls can be made very cheaply.  Included services with your flat rate service include: call waiting, call forwarding, online enabled voice mail, CallerID, and many more.  Whereas conventional phone companies charge you individually for each of these services, VoIP providers give them to you for one flat rate.

Where do you begin if you’d like to use your broadband connection to lower your phone bill dramatically?  Lets walk through some of the options.

More “Traditional” VoIP Services

Vonage logoVonage is the most well-known Internet telephony service, thanks to their aggressive marketing campaigns. Vonage is a service that gives you a telephony adapter that converts your standard voice signals into packets that can be sent over the internet.  Therefore, you can plug your normal phones into this adapter and start dialing the same way you do with a landline.  Vonage service runs $25/month for unlimited calling to the US and Canada and many additional services including voicemail, call forwarding, etc.  Vonage requires a U.S. shipping address so you must live in the U.S. to use Vonage service.

Vonage service includes e911, which is a service that enables emergency responders to locate you when you dial 911.  Just a few years ago, before e911, there were incidents where responders couldn’t located VoIP users who called for emergency assistance.  Now with e911, you give your physical location to the VoIP service provider when you sign up for service.  Accordingly, it is important to update your address with our VoIP service provider should you move.

Packet8 LogoPacket8 is a veteran VoIP provider and prides itself on stability and reliability.  Packet8 sets itself apart from the VoIP pack by offering solid service and optional video conferencing features.  Their most popular plan, Freedom Unlimited, includes calling to United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and the UK for the flat rate of $24.95/month not including taxes and regulatory fees.  Packet8 charges a $30 activation charge.  Like Vonage, Packet8 will provide you with a telephone adapter.  Packet8 also includes e911.

There is a difference between Packet8 and many other VoIP providers that needs to be noted.  The voice technology Packet8 uses to transfer your voice over the Internet, called a codec, is different than Vonage.  Packet8 uses g.729 whereas Vonage utilizes g.711.  The result, in my experience, is that voice quality suffers.  This difference is especially noticeable when two parties on a phone call attempt to speak at the same time and drown each other out because of the way g.729 functions.

VT logoRounding out the group of notable VoIP providers is ViaTalk.  One of the lesser known VoIP providers, ViaTalk prides itself on outstanding customer support.  You can either pay for an entire year (currently priced at $200/year) or monthly at $23/month, not including fees and taxes.  Their feature set includes voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, call return (*69) and an impressive customer control panel.  e911 service is included with ViaTalk service.  ViaTalk, along with Vonage, is only available in the United States.

I have had to work with ViaTalk customer support on a few occasions and have found them a pleasure to work with.  Their support is U.S. based and available 24 hours a day.

Skype

skype logoUnlike the afore mentioned options, Skype does not use a telephone adapter to make your voice calls route over the Internet.  Skype is the grand daddy of the VoIP world and is wildly popular as a computer-based VoIP service.  They offer very cheap voice calls to landlines and cell phones that are billed at around 2 cents a minute.  They’ve partnered with a few hardware manufacturers and have built Skype phones that look exactly like a cell phone or conventional cordless phones.  My favorite device is the NetGear VoIP841, however I look forward to trying more in the near future.

VoIp841Skype recently announced a monthly plan that includes unlimited calling to the United States and Canada for $2.95/month.  Skype calls to landlines and cell phones used to vary in call quality, but I have found SkypeOut calls to be as good if not better than a normal landline phone conversation.  To see if Skype might work for you, download Skype and make a few calls to see if your quality is up to acceptable for you.  To get a phone number for people to dial you from conventional phones, you must purchase a SkypeIn number which runs $12 for a 3 month subscription or $36 for one year.

Important notes:

  • You cannot use Skype to dial 911 in an emergency.  So if you need to dial 911, do it from a cell phone if Skype is your only calling option.  Skype does not use e911.
  • With any VoIP service, service can go out from time to time, and relies on electric service.  It’s important to have a backup plan such as a cell phone in order to conduct business and make phone calls should your VoIP go out for any reason.
  • These VoIP services are intented for those living in the U.S.  For international VoIP, Skype would be my first suggestion.  If you have experience with an alternative international VoIP provider, please share in the comments.
  • VoIP call quality is dependent on the quality of your broadband connection to the Internet.
  1. Great article, because it seeks to correct the misunderstanding about VoIP. I just bought a cordless home phone that does the normal phone line and answering machine PLUS 6 VoIP accounts plus RSS and SMS! The phones can connect natively to each other free over the Internet through Siemens server in some countries.

    I wrote a non-technical review of the Siemens S675IP here. I seriously love this phone for my home and small business and highly recommend it.

    I would add one really good player, onSIP.com (I’ve tested their system and it works very well). I’ve been a customer of the parent company Junction Networks for several years. Needless to say, this was the first account I entered into the S675IP!

    /r

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  2. You should check http://www.jajah.com. Their not VoIP exactly, but you can use them for some of the things you mention as VoIP benefits. It calls you (to any number you provide) and then places a second call to the number you want to call to. VoIP is in the middle and you have standard phones in both ends. You can do long distance and international calls quite cheaply (similar to skype).

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  3. Viatalk != Good customer service. I have used them since SunRocket went under and would say that the customer service is worse than your average telcom. In fact, I would say they are somewhat shady. They have recently ( the last 6-9 months) removed a link they had to a forum for all users to help each other out with tech problems…i guess due to the amount of negative posts about the company. That said, their service seems ok, SunRocket was much better though.

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  4. I’ve been with Vonage for many years now and have been completely satisified with their service. I checked into VOIP much earlier than most people thanks to the motivation provided by the monopolistic local phone provider’s horrible service and high price. Somehow, unlike all the rest of suburban Houston, they were the only choice I had for local service and I could tell by how they treated me. Vonage is just flat out a better service (VOIP or not) for much less cost.

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  5. I forgot to mention that going with a wireless phone set makes the transition to VOIP a snap.

    One thing I’d like to see is the ability to place and answer calls using my vonage numbers directly from my computer.

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  6. Vonage is also available in Canada (FYI)

    http://www.vonage.ca/

    I’ve been a customer for at least a couple of years now. It’s not bad, the quality suffers sometimes (but that’s mostly the fault of my ISP). I’ve got local numbers in two different cities, so my favorite part is getting phone calls trying to sell me local services (I’m not local to either city). It’s always a blast asking the telemarketer if they’ll deliver….

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  7. J.A. Watson Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    There are several excellent alternatives to Skype:

    ooVoo (www.oovoo.com) – excellent multi-party video/audio/phone chats, outgoing calls to all U.S. and Canada numbers are free until mid-June.

    SightSpeed (www.sightspeed.com) – very good business features, multi-party video chat in subscription version.

    Gizmo5 (www.gizmo5.com) – Excellent phone in/out service, unsurpassed IM text chat, can include MSN, Yahoo and others.

    All three of these offer one significant thing that is missing in Skype – customer support. Just try contacting Skype support with even the most trivial of questions, and see what kind of response you get (if any).

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  8. ViaTalk was an absolute nightmare for me, and I’m not exaggerating. Horrible service, inept and rude tech support that I waited literally hours for, and a draconian refund policy. I had to get the NY department of consumer affairs involved to get a refund. BBB delisted ViaTalk over all the complaints.

    STAY AWAY FROM VIATALK!

    –Dan

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  9. I’d add VoicePulse to the list of providers. We have used their Asterisk service. Their tech support is great, and generally it seems to work quite well.

    However, I would caution people about using the VoIP providers above for inbound and outbound business calls. The quality can be quite poor; much worse than a cell phone, and it projects a terrible image to your customers and clients if they are struggling to talk to you over the phone.

    Better to maintain a minimum of one “real” landline for business calls and supplement it with something like Voicepulse or Skype for overseas long-distance calls, and casual calls with friends.

    Videoconferencing:
    Add me as a fan of SightSpeed. It is outstanding for videoconferencing, and allows three or four connections for multi-point. For point to point video calls on the Mac, iChat is great.

    Finally we’ve had excellent results with the Polycom PVX software for connections to conventional multi-point business videoconferencing units using either H.323 or SIP connections. This is a very mature application which has outstanding results. and terrific audio. We’re using it with multi-point connections with 12 external sites on a regular basis. Costs $120.00 per seat. Windows only. (boo hoo). Works very well with “home” DSL and cable broadband.

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  10. @Larry Keyes, yes, I’ve been with VoicePulse for a few years and ironically, I had a small problem with my Siemens phone mentioned above. I phoned them and got it solved, at my own tech level (not dumbed down to “reboot Windows”) within minutes. VoicePulse is a great choice.

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