VoIP Thoughts

Right now, Ames and I are living in an apartment where basic BellSouth phone service is included in the rent. In June though, I’ll be starting a remote job, which is sure to include quite a bit of long distance calling. Then, at the end of July, Ames and I will be packing up and moving to South Carolina. I could take all incoming calls on our landline and place all long-distance from my cell phone, but I don’t have enough minutes in my cell plan for that. As a result, I’m thinking it might be a good time to jump on the broadband phone bandwagon. This would allow me to go ahead and get my Carolina phone number now to give out to friends before the move. It would also allow me to have phone service as soon as the internet is hooked up at the new place…which we all know is priority number one for moving.

I know a couple people who have switched over to IP phone service, one uses Vonage, and the other has BroadVoice. Both are happy with their service, but the problem is that there are a whole lot more reputable IP telephony companies out there. They all seem to be around the same price, include a boatload of features, and promise the moon. Here are the biggest contenders:

  • BroadVoice – $19.95 and my friend gives them a thumbs up for value and for being a “neat little company”.
  • Vonage – $24.99 makes them a pricey option…and to me, they seem like the AOL of VoIP right now. That just doesn’t appeal to me so much.
  • AT&T CallVantage – $29.99!?! OK, now that I’m over the price, I’ve seen a lot of positive comments about their customer service and QOS.
  • Packet8 – $19.95 sounds about right, and although they seem to have mixed reviews, I’ve read a lot of positive news about them.
  • SunRocket – $199…yea, right. Like I’m going to prepay for a year of VoIP service? That’s only about $17/mo, and in my book, they stack up to the $19.95 companies, but I don’t think I’ll pay them by the month at $24.95.
  • Lingo – $19.95, but check out the negative reviews. I think that a lot of the content at voipreview.org is grassroots marketing (AKA – mostly BS), but it seems that most of the Lingo reviews are authentic. I’ve seen good reviews elsewhere though, so they stay on the list – perhaps because I like repeating their name: Lingo, leeengo, Lin Gho!

Ok, I think it’s time for bed, but if you have any experience with these or other residential VoIP providers, please let me know:

  1. How long you’ve been with them?
  2. How long have you been doing the VoIP thing overall?
  3. What is the best and worst thing about the companies service?
  4. If regular phone service ranks 98% for clarity and cellphone service ranks 72%, How clear is your VoIP serivce?
  5. Are you strangely delighted by saying the word “Lingo”?

13 Comments

    1. Amy and I use Packet8 and have been with them for about 6 months.
    2. See above
    3. The nicest part is the price. $19.95/mo for local and long distance(all the same to VOIP)? Can’t beat that. We were paying around $60 for local and long distance with Alltel. The worst part can be static and delays on the line at random times. Not often, but it does happen.
    4. I’d say somewhere between the two. Sometimes you can’t tell it’s VOIP, and other times (static, delays) you can and it does seem like you’re on a cellphone.
    5. Reminds me of a post on dooce.com a few months ago when Heather’s daughter was pronouncing her own name as Leego instead of Leta

    Bonus info! VOIP companies will send you a converter box that plugs into your router and then ONE telephone to the box. I didn’t want just one telephone to work for the entire house, though. I found out from a friend how to disconnect the outside telephone lines from “the grid” or whatever you want to call it. It essentially isolates the telephone outlets in the house. Once I did that, it was safe to plug the box into a telephone outlet in the wall. That made all the other outlets work as normal, but using VOIP.

    More bonus info! Doing some math, if we stayed with Alltel two months would have been $120. Going with Packet8, two months cost is $70 ($50 first month for startup then $20 next month). That’s a savings of $50 in just the second month. That payed for the startup costs right there. A no-brainer for us to switch.

    Let me know if you have other questions because I could probably answer most questions you have about Packet8. Oh, and be prepared to have people ask you “Oh, you’re with Vonage?” if you tell them you have VOIP. Very annoying to explain that GOSH! other VOIP companines do exist. Sorry for the long comment.

  1. Here’s an article I ran across last week that I think you’d be happy to read:

    Internet Phones Given 911 Deadline

  2. Wow! That’s a lot of Bonus Info! Thanks Ray! Back before Amy and I were considering VoIP, I saw the Cheryl Waller story on the local news. It was so over-dramatized… Her baby fell in a pool. When she found the baby it wasn’t breathing and she wasted precious minutes trying to get through to 911, which kept coming up with a non-emergency number answering machine. I agree that it’s a tragedy but I felt so bad for Vonage. They routed the call just as their info claims and they’re stuck with all the blame for an obvious case of user negligence.

    1. Broadvoice – about a year
    2. About a year
    3. They have a low price, at times service is worse than a cell phone.
    4. Usually 98% but today it has been 50%
    5. Kind of but not really 🙂
    6. Yes, Broadvoice is a neat little company, but they still seem like a little company. You’re pretty much on your own with them, so for price, you give up some customer service. The last time I checked they don’t have 911 service, but we have cell phones that should be good for that.

      You can add numbers to your line pretty cheaply, this is handy if you want a local number for family and friends to call and probably costs less than having an 800 number.

  3. I got vonage nearly 2 years ago – didn’t do any research about other companies, didn’t really even know of any other VOIP companies back then except maybe one – but i must say that my vonage service has been flawless. no idea about their customer service because i’ve honestly never had to use it. i’ve moved twice since then, without a hiccup. i especially like forwarding the calls to my cell for free 🙂

    (and no – i don’t work for them. just a (rarely) happy customer. too sick of being bent over the barrel by SBC down here in texas.)

    clarity is definitely better than my cingular phone. almost never gets sketchy unless my router is glitching. not *quite* as good as a landline, but never anything like a cell.

  4. I was a Vonage customer for 18 months starting in 2003. The reason why I left them is because, following a number change, I attempted to activate 911 service and my attempt failed. 2 reps promised they’d force-activate the service for me within 48-72 hours … and after 120 hours, it was not done. 911 service, even “basic” 911 service routed through a PSAP instead of going direct to an emergency response center, is part of their package. And, they’re charging people for that package. So frankly, I’m not all that supportive of Vonage in the Waller case (or the three cases in Michigan, Connecticut, and Texas … so far) where state attorney’s general have taken Vonage to court for deceptive trade practices. If you’re being charged for a service you’re not getting by any company, that’s called “fraud.”

    BTW, Vonage did not route Cheryl Waller’s calls as their info promised. PSAPs are “manned” stations, 24 hours a day, with human beings on the other end. They routed her to a non-emergency line at her local sheriff’s office that was NOT manned … but set up with a recording saying, “If you have a real emergency, call 911.”

    You know what the really odd thing is about this? On Vonage, you have to “activate” your 911 service after you sign up. Why is that? It would be a simple matter indeed for Vonage or any other VOIP provider to make it part of the sign-up process … to ask you for the physical location where your phone will reside. And by the time your ATA device arrives in the mail, your 911 service should be active already. FWIW, other companies like Lingo already do this. So, it’s not a technological problem. It’s just a procedural choice Vonage unwisely made.

    The other odd thing? The real culprit who got away with murder here isn’t Vonage. It’s the FCC. Even Waller’s initial comments to WESH-TV indicated this. They knew a LONG time ago that these situations would eventually arise … and CHOSE to do nothing about it. e911 compliance should have been a “given” from the beginning … before VOIP providers were allowed to market their services.

    In closing, just a thought. When you say “911” to people, only one thought comes to mind – access to an emergency response center. Period. But until very recently, VOIP providers used the term freely to describe the emergency service they offered as part of their packages. It is only natural for customers to assume that VOIP providers aren’t “equivocating” on that definition. And yet, they do equivocate. In Vonage’s case, their equivocation appeared somewhere within their 11-page terms of service agreement with 54 sections, all written in legalese that the common consumer might not understand. But if the FCC had done their job back in 2003 (or earlier), none of this would be a matter of debate in 2005.

    911 calling is too important to allow VOIP providers equivocation over its definition. They either have 911 (as commonly understood) or they don’t. And if they don’t, that fact should be in BOLDFACE on every website, advertisement, or brochure they produce. Truth-in-labeling laws apply to all life-saving drugs we take. It should be no different with life-saving services we buy (or THINK we’re buying).

  5. Wow, what an essay. In my opinion, people should not depend on any VoIP provider as their only access to e911 service. The acronym VoIP stands for Voice over IP, and IP addresses have never been geographically specific. Even if you did enable e911 service, the router is portable, so would you expect to be able to call 911 with your VoIP phone when you’re visiting friends 3 states away? Of course not! With Internet Telephony being so reasonably priced, there is no reason (if you decided not to have a “land line”) why you couldn’t get a minimal cell phone plan as an emergency precaution. Even prepaid cellphones have more reliable access to e911 services. If you’re not aware of the shortcomings of VoIP service over a regular phone line then you’re too ignorant to have the service. It’s that simple.

  6. Well, it’s not “that” simple.

    First, even current VoIP carriers require users to notify them if there’s a physical address change in order to route the call to the appropriate PSAP. In the second place, only business users who bounce from one hotel to the next would suffer under that situation … and they wouldn’t expect to use their broadband phone for 911 connection anyway. Thirdly, in regards to IP numbers “never” having been geographically specific, visit this website:

    http://www.geobytes.com/IpLocator.htm

    And that’s just a free service that only returns basic information. Knowing the IP number, it could be traced directly to the user using it. Even if I took an ATA device to a hotel in Chicago, their ethernet port IP would give away my location.

    But portability issues aside, face it … most VoIP users use it in their homes with no plans to bounce from one address to another.

    Again, the issue I’m attempting to address is not usability … it’s fraud. I found it very interesting that, after the lawsuit in Texas, 911 claims found easily on virtually every VoIP provider website “vanished” … and are now buried within their web presences. I don’t know of one VoIP provider that now uses the term “911” on their homepage. Using a commonly understood term like “911” and then equivocating its definition is no better than the “bait-and-switch” marketing practices that are illegal in every state.

    VoIP providers in the U.S. are clammoring to get the FCC to extend their November 29th deadline for e911 compliance. But many of those same VoIP providers also operate in Canada where e911 compliance was mandatory by August 17th. Since their system is identical to ours, what can be done in Canada can be done here.

    Some U.S. VoIP providers (ie., Comcast) are already e911 compliant. I’m a big believer in the old (but valid) capitalistic notion that the “strong” companies should survive, letting the “inferior” companies fall by the wayside. And, I only hope that the FCC chooses not to subsidize inferiority by extending the deadline. I’ve written to my Senators and my Congressman urging them to pressure the FCC to stay the course … assuming they have any influence on the matter.

    BTW, regarding your comment, quote, “If you’re not aware of the shortcomings of VoIP service over a regular phone line then you’re too ignorant to have the service,” I’d only add this. If the FCC was not aware of the shortcomings of VoIP service over a regular phone line, then they’re too ignorant to be in charge of telecommunications matters … and need to be replaced by those less ignorant.

  7. P.S. In the beginnings of VoIP, the most fair thing the FCC could have done (but didn’t) was require VoIP providers to offer one or two levels of service … BASIC and ENHANCED. BASIC service would be for people who have no use or desire for 911 calling features at all. ENHANCED service would be for people who want the same level of service required by the Emergency 911 Act of 1992. In other words, an “either/or” situation … clearly posted on all VoIP websites. Either your 911 call wouldn’t be routed anywhere … or it would be routed directly to an emergency response center … with NO confusing or complicated middle-ground.

    Such a decision would have allowed VoIP providers to flourish at first in their appeal to the business consumer … and would have allowed them all the time in the world, if they so wished, to develop and implement “full” service for consumers who use the service primarily in their homes.

    But sadly, the FCC dropped the ball … leading to misunderstandings, lawsuits, deadlines, and other claptrap we now see today.

  8. Geez Jim… Who are you trying to preach to here? I am a VoIP subscriber, and a happy one at that. It’s not that I don’t want VoIP service to be e911 compliant, but it just isn’t…yet. All of the providers are clamoring to come up with a solution to this problem. The ones that are the closest (ie Comcast, TimeWarner) are those that can link you to an address by the cable television service they require you to have. And…surprise! TimeWarner wants you to pay $15 more per month for the same service you can get from Vonage. I DO understand the current shortcomings of VoIP e911 service and I’m sure the FCC does too. In reference to geobytes.com, their IP Locator puts me in Marietta, GA…they even give a specific longitude and latitude…that is 230+ miles away from my physical location in Columbia, SC. That’s because I don’t have a static IP…my IP address can change any time I reboot my cable modem. The same IP that I have one minute could, in a matter of seconds, be re-allocated to someone hundreds of miles away.

    Vonage, in my opinion, was smart to offer an opt-in service to link your 911 call to a physical emergency dispatch office. The engineers who devised this system did not foresee the Cheryl Waller incident and surely grieved, as I grieve for her loss. There are however far too many variables in this case, and others like it, to instantly rule Vonage as the only party responsible. The fact is that calls from VoIP phone services are relegated to a second-class status compared with normal 911 calling. With more and more people depending on internet-based phone services, that status needs to change, and until it does, people will still end up directed to administrative and non-emergency numbers when they dial 911 from their VoIP phone.

  9. Just one additional comment on your quote, “In reference to geobytes.com, their IP Locator puts me in Marietta, GA…they even give a specific longitude and latitude…that is 230+ miles away from my physical location in Columbia, SC. That’s because I don’t have a static IP…my IP address can change any time I reboot my cable modem. The same IP that I have one minute could, in a matter of seconds, be re-allocated to someone hundreds of miles away.”

    As I indicated, GeoBytes.com is just a free service that only provides basic information. More thorough information can be gotten through the sysadmin of the IP’s owner. With an IP number and a timestamp, they can find out where the call originated.

  10. I would just like to leave my two euro cents: I had nothing (and I mean nothing) but trouble during my year of “service” with Lingo. Their technical support is terrible (always passing the buck to another department), their equipment unreliable, feature set lacking and worse yet static. They have not added new features, updated their web panel, or showed any interest in improvements in VoIP technology since I signed up with them over two years ago. I just can’t say enough bad things about them

    I am now with Broadvoice and have been for about 8 months now. I’ve never had to beg them to follow through on discounts they promised, their tech support answers with in five minutes of placing the call (unlike Lingo’s thirty minutes to an hour). Everyone I’ve spoke with at Broadvoice is an product-educated native English speaker with the power to do something about my issues.

    While I have had some minor issues with BroadVoice everything was resolved quickly and professionally.

  11. I have been using tringotel business line for the past few months. No major complaints about call quality.

    Lots of great features and very easy to customize. But, there is no way to set up multiple voicemail boxes. This is unfortunate because I have a partner. You can use an answering machine with multiple boxes instead, but all of the great Voip voicemail features (including. .wav messages to email) are lost. Lingo and vonage might have the same weakness.

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