I’ve been a Vonage customer now for several years for my home office line and for VoIP on the go. Lately I’ve been getting a barrage of ads from Comcast trying to get me to go to their Digital Voice service on my home line. Even if I were going to switch this line over, I would probably go with Vonage instead.
What is Vonage?
Vonage is a service provider for Voice over IP (VoIP). This means that you can get telephone service over your high speed internet connection instead of standard phone service from the phone company. The advantage is typically around price! Vonage offers unlimited calling for a flat rate of $24.99/month. This is unlimited local and long distance calling to anywhere in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, plus unlimited calling to landlines in Italy, France, Spain, UK and Ireland. I also get the vast majority of calling features (25+) offered by the phone company (AT&T) including: Call Waiting, Caller ID with Name, 3-Way Calling, Call Forwarding, etc.
How does it work?
Once I signed up for Vonage they handled the phone number switch as well as shipping the Vonage router/phone adapter I needed to connect up to my network to actually have something to plug my standard telephone into. The router can either be used as a router for your network or simply plug it into your existing router. On the back there are two RJ-11 jacks for (for two line compatibility). Plug any standard landline/cordless phone in you want to use. It’s amazing, when someone calls your number, your phone rings. When you want to make a call, you pick up the phone you’ve always used and dial the number. 🙂
Take it with you!
Since your Vonage service is tied to the router they send you, technically you could take that router anywhere and plug it into a high speed network and have your phone service with you. This is great for vacations or vacation homes. You could also just forward your calls to your cellphone, but if you plan to make a bunch of calls, then you won’t have to pay long distance, hotel phone fees, or use up your cellular minutes.
Use the Vonage Wi-Fi Phone on the Road
Another way of taking Vonage with you is to setup and use their Wi-Fi Phone. This is a phone tied to a Vonage account (extra line/number) that works over any standard Wi-Fi connection. The phone is small, in many cases smaller than a regular cellphone. It charges over USB and has its own phone number associated with it. While you can access Wi-Fi networks that are WEP/WPA protected if you have the password, you can’t access Wi-Fi networks that require that you visit a webpage first to gain access. There is no web browser on the device.
This works out great when I travel abroad! I usually have internet access in my hotel room and since I travel with my own Wi-Fi router, I can use my Vonage Wi-Fi phone no problem. Since Vonage isn’t location based, I can call back to the states basically for nothing. As long as my Wi-Fi phone is on and has a Wi-Fi connection people can call me too.
Vonage Soft Phone
Yes, there’s even a SoftPhone choice. This would again be another line setup, but you have the option of making calls through your computer. If you have a Vonage SoftPhone line you get an app for both Mac and PC that allows you to make and receive calls from your computer. Again, this is great for travel as you can use your laptop as a phone as long as you have an internet connection.
There’s even a compatible iPhone App!
Although Vonage doesn’t have their own iPhone app (hint hint), their SoftPhone feature uses the standard SIP protocol and I found a compatible 3rd Party iPhone app called WeePhone SIP. It’s $4.99 and you can set it up with your Vonage Softphone settings. Once you do, you can actually use this app on your iPhone or iPod touch when you have a Wi-Fi to make calls using your Vonage account!
WeePhone SIP is $4.99 and available here from the App Store.
VoiceMail as Audio Attachments
Your Vonage line comes with VoiceMail. One of the things that’s nice about it is that you can retrieve your messages either from a phone or via your computer. You can also configure your voicemail so that messages are sent to your email as audio attachments. I love this because, this allows me to listen to voicemails without the extra effort of dialing in to do so and since they are audio attachments, I can forward them to others that I need to take action on them. This is something that I wish the iPhone’s Visual Voicemail feature would do.
In addition to the standard features, you can get additional services such as the ones I discussed above like SoftPhone and the Wi-Fi Phone. You can also get additional lines such as a FAX line or a line that isn’t unlimited, but costs less per month. There’s a 500 minute line that’s only $17.99/month for those that don’t need unlimited calling. You can even get things like an 800# or Virtual Number (a number in an area code of your choosing) to make it easier for friends and loved ones to call you without it being a long distance call for them.
What’s the downside?
Since Vonage and other VoIP solutions rely on your internet connection, if your internet connection goes down your phone is down too. Luckily there is a way to configure an alternate number such as your cellphone so that you won’t miss any incoming calls.
911 Emergency Services – By law Vonage has to enforce 911 registration with all of its customers. This means that you have to register an address with your Vonage service that if you dial 911 from your Vonage phone, the emergency teams would go to the address on file. However, if you take your Vonage router on the road, this won’t work if you need to dial 911 from say your vacation home.
My phone still offers one feature that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere and it’s called "Privacy Manager". With Privacy Manger if you call my number and your caller ID info is not present or blocked, instead of my phone ringing you’ll be presented with a greeting asking you to speak your name. If you don’t, then you’ll be disconnected and my phone will have never rung. If you do, my phone will ring, I’ll get to hear what you recorded and then decide if I want to take the call. This cuts down the telemarketing calls quite a bit.
Wiring might be an issue if you are not tech savvy and you want to wire all of the jacks in your house to the Vonage box. There are many how-tos on the web on how to do this or you can get someone out to your house to do it for you. Make sure that you’ve covered things like alarm systems that require a phone line and TiVo boxes that dial out over a phone line before you dump your POTS service.
The Bottom Line
If you’re tired of paying ridiculous phone charges and you already have an internet connection such as Cable or DSL, then you might want to give Vonage a try. Like I said, I’ve had the service for several years and have been very happy with it. I’m still not sure I’m ready to give up the one remaining landline in my home, but when I do, it will most likely be for a Vonage line instead. Even with all the additional services I got from Vonage and lines, my monthly Vonage bill is a FRACTION of what my old AT&T plus Sprint long distance bill was.
Sorry Comcast! Vonage has more features and costs $15 less a month than your service ($39.95/month after the promotional period ends).
Check out Vonage here.