Voice Over IP

or "How to make your home phone just as unreliable as your mobile phone"

by Philip Greenspun in March 2005

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This is a review of my experience switching my home telephone from a traditional hard-wired Verizon line to Voice over IP (VoIP) service from Lingo, Packet8, and Vonage.

What is Voice over IP (VoIP)?

If you are reading this you are probably paying for some sort of high-speed Internet service at home, capable of continuously transmitting and receiving at least 384 Kbits/second. You may also be paying $40 per month for a traditional phone line from a traditional phone company. Given that high quality voice communications can be established at roughly 64 Kbits/second you might have asked yourself "Why am I paying twice for the same essential service?"

If everyone in the world sat at their computers all the time they could all simply download the free Skype software (www.skype.com), buy headsets for $10, and talk for free for the rest of their lives. Chat programs such as AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger also include a voice communications capability. In fact, it would probably be better for the world if phone numbers were eliminated and everyone were known by their AIM or MSN ID. Why should someone have to remember that you're reachable, sometimes, at 617-123-4567, but at other times as malibupilot@aol.com or on AIM as "malibupilot"?

The engineers' ideal world does not exist, however. Only some mobile phones have Internet capability and only some of those run AOL Instant Messenger and only some of those are compatible with AIM's voice chat feature. Many people are only reachable via old-style telephone lines. Many people would prefer to make phone calls from old-style telephones scattered throughout their homes.

Thus there are companies that provide you with two things. Thing 1 is a little box, one end of which plugs into your Internet connection (cable or DSL modem or a router behind one of those modems) and the other end of which plugs into the phone lines of your house, simulating the phone company electrically so that a 20-year-old bedside phone rings and gets a dial tone normally. Thing 2 is access to a network of interfaces between the Internet and traditional phone systems throughout the world; outgoing calls travel on the Internet as far as they can and then are finally injected into the local phone network near the person you're calling; incoming calls are routed via a mysterious arrangement to your VoIP provider and then over the Internet to the little box in your house.

Advantages of Voice over IP (versus traditional phone service)

For families that have been dispersed internationally there are potentially huge cost savings. Imagine that the parents are in Duluth, Minnesota, little Johnny is in Tokyo and Muffy is doing a year in Argentina. Assume that each household is somehow wired for high-speed Internet. For an additional cost of $15-20 month each household is equipped with a VoIP box that has a U.S. phone number. When they call each other the calls are in-network and will usually be free. When the kids in Tokyo and Argentina call friends in the U.S. or Canada it is a domestic call and typically free. When Johnny and Muffy's friends from high school want to call them, they are calling a Duluth number and they won't pay anything extra to have their voice transferred to Japan or Argentina. Remember that the VoIP box works anywhere it can get an Internet connection and it doesn't know or care what country it might physically be in.

For an American business that has customers in Europe, for example, an advantage of VoIP is that extra local numbers can be added at a small additional monthly charge to save customers the cost of dialing in. So a customer in Israel, for example, dials what looks like a local Tel Aviv number but the phone rings in Chicago.

My personal favorite innovative feature of Voice over IP is "simultaneous ring", sometimes just considered part of call forwarding. You set up the VoIP number to ring your mobile phone simultaneously and disable your VoIP voice mail. You give friends only your home phone number. When they call both your home phone(s) and your cell phone will ring. If you pick up the home phone, the cell phone stops ringing. If you're at a friend's house and pick up your cell phone, the home phone stops ringing. If you're out flying a helicopter and have the cell turned off or don't answer it, eventually the call will be answerd by the mobile phone company's voice mail system. As of March 2005 this feature was not available at any price to Verizon traditional phone line customers and they had no plans ever to make it available.

If you do decide to use the VoIP voicemail service it can usually be set up to email you the messages as audio file attachments, potentially useful if you're traveling internationally and want to check your voice messages from an Internet cafe.

Disadvantages of Voice over IP (versus traditional phone service)

When might you wish that you hadn't switched to Voice over IP? Imagine that your Internet connection fails and you want to call your Internet Service Provider. You'd have to do that from a neighbor's phone or a mobile phone. Suppose the power fails in your neighborhood. Everyone with a traditional phone line will be chatting away to their friends and relatives. You'll watch the little lights go out on your cable modem and, with them, your home phone service.

Calling 911 may not work.

You won't be in the White Pages or any of the Internet directories derived from the old White Pages anymore.

A Review of Lingo

The first VoIP phone service that I tried was Lingo (www.lingo.com). For $25 per month they offer unlimited calling to the U.S., Canada, and many Western European countries. This is advertised at $20 per month but you need to pay $5 extra forever to port your old phone number to Lingo.

Here's what I wrote about Lingo after my first month:

On the plus side Lingo voice quality was pretty good, though never as good as the old standard Verizon phone line. Lingo managed to transfer ownership of my home phone number from Verizon in about three weeks.

After another couple of months a lot of outgoing calls weren't going through. A phone call to Lingo tech support resulted in them suggesting some changes in my home network configuration. These changes resulted in the total failure of the Lingo phone. I used their Web interface to forward all calls to my cell phone. Lingo tech support promised to escalate the problem to their Tier 2 tech support staff. After a week I still had not heard back from Lingo so I ordered a Vonage phone as a replacement.

For the next few months I was using Vonage but still paying Lingo $25 per month to forward because they owned my home phone number. A few months later calls to my home phone number stopped working altogether (see the Vonage story below). I called Lingo tech support and waited for one hour before a Tier 1 tech support person answered. He logged a trouble ticket and said that they would get back to me. Three days later I called to check on the ticket. This time the queue for tech support was one hour and fifteen minutes long. Twenty four hours later I got an email from the Tier 2 tech support folks that the number had been ported to Vonage and Lingo could not get it back.

Lingo cannot be cancelled via the Web. Getting rid of Lingo involved a 30-minute wait to talk to a human and then that human explaining how fine print in their terms and conditions allowed Lingo to charge a $40 cancellation fee.

A Review of Vonage

Vonage has great marketing materials and spends lots of money on Internet advertising. They are more expensive than most other VoIP providers, charging a higher monthly fee, not including Europe in their unlimited service area, and charging double the per-minute rates for international calls. My first inkling that Vonage might be troublesome came when they lost my FAXed request to port my home phone number. I sent the second request on December 8, 2004. By March 7, 2005 they still hadn't transfered the number so I called them up, waiting more than 30 minutes in queue, and cancelled my request for the transfer. The tech support guy said that they'd been backlogged and that they hadn't been able to port anyone's number for many months.

Bizarrely, the call to cancel the porting request motivated Vonage to action. They actually did port my old number away from Lingo the very next day. But they also recorded the porting request as "cancelled" in their computer system. Thus people calling my old faithful Verizon number got dead air or "this number is not in service". Initially I thought it was a Lingo problem (see above). After nearly a week of not getting any phone calls I was able to determine that Vonage owned the number. I called Vonage tech support and waited 45 minutes in queue before someone answered. He transferred me to a woman in the porting group. She tried to put me on hold for a moment to test my number but inadvertently hung up on me. She never called back.

I called Vonage tech support again and, after another hour waiting, got through to someone in the porting group. She was very confused about what had happened but was able to verify that Vonage's contractor owned my number. She said that they would have to restart the porting process, which struck me as odd given that Vonage's agent now owned the number. Twenty four hours later I got an email from Vonage demanding that I resend the porting request paperwork (this would be the third time that I'd FAXed it to them). Unfortunately the only phone line in my house is a Vonage phone and the sound quality is not high enough for the transmission of a FAX. One thing that did work was Vonage charging my credit card $10.29 as a porting fee and they sent me an email confirming that they had charged me again for porting my phone number (though like the first porting fee, this one did not result in any calls getting through from my original number). Finally after about one week of not receiving any calls the Vonage team got my old phone number routed again.

Vonage sound quality was reasonably good for the first month or so and then deteriorated with lots of static on every call. Filling out a tech support form on their Web site resulted in an automatic email reply that in the event of technical trouble I should consider power cycling my cable modem and that if this didn't solve the problem, I should reply to the email. I replied to this email and never got a response. I called the tech support number and waited for about one hour on hold. They decided to send me a new router, which arrived after about one week. With the new router the static on my end was gone. But people whom I called complained that my voice was barely audible and covered in static.

My friend Peter Gottlieb's experience with Vonage...

About 10 days ago I wake up to an email stating that they have upgraded
the firmware in my router and that they can no longer reach it. I was
instructed to reboot the network and if I did not have a dialtone to
reply to the message and they would send me a new adapter overnight, at
no charge, and give me a free month of service. I replied. Three days
later I called their tech support. Go through 5 levels of voice menus to
get a busy signal. 9 hours of attempts later I get in the queue and the
agent says he will send me a new unit, the old one must be factory
reprogrammed. I then receive "thank you" emails thanking me for my order
and that they have charged my credit card for the new unit plus shipping
and that they have a very strict return policy and I must ship back the
original unit "with all original materials including box, packing,
manuals and accessories" and do it with a service that has tracking. I
get the new box, install and set it up (which I doubt 95% of consumers
could do as it involves setting internet and DSL options) and lo and
behold, same problem! So I call tech support again, this time I was
lucky, it only took me 4 hours to get someone. This guy though knew what
was going on. He explained some of their servers have a problem dealing
with updating through the Westel DSL boxes and he would remove those
from the list that my account uses. He then gave me the box password to
do a "factory reset" and it reloaded both its firmwares from new servers
and after about 5 minutes it was running again. Obviously they did not
need to send me a new box.
Vonage offers an innovative feature: a little Windows plug-in that adds a button to Microsoft Outlook. When you are looking at a Contact in Outlook you can click a little Vonage button to dial the number. When the call goes through, Vonage rings your phone and you pick it up. Unfortunately the software was not programmed intelligently enough to deal with Simultaneous Ring. If you have set up Vonage to ring both your VoIP phone and mobile phone at the same time the little desktop application will also ring both phones. So click to call your friend and your home VoIP phone rings. You pick up the home phone and start chatting but meanwhile your cell phone is ringing in your pocket.


On March 10, 2005, I signed up for Packet8 (www.packet8.net). I set it up to "call forward" to my mobile phone, which does in fact ring the regular Packet8 phone at the same time. The sound quality when forwarded to the mobile phone was very poor, much worse than with Vonage. Emails to Packet8 tech support regarding this issue were never answered. After a few rounds of telephone tech support the best that the Packet8 guys could come with was messing with my home router to set up a demilitarized zone (DMZ) so that the Packet8 box would have more direct access to the Internet. As you'd expect, given that a forwarded call to a cell phone doesn't get anywhere near the equipment in one's home, this had no effect on sound quality.

Packet8 sound quality was somewhat poorer than Lingo or Vonage when using their core IP telephony service. The Packet8 Web site is much more difficult to use than Lingo's or Vonage's for changing features and settings.

By October 2005, I had despaired of getting any useful assistance from Packet8 tech support and decided to cancel the service. This cannot be done with their Web site and required calling the Packet8 800-number, waiting in a queue, and talking to two different humans. They insisted on charging me a $60 cancellation fee even though they admitted that their records showed I hadn't made any calls except for a handful of test calls, mostly to their tech support personnel. They weren't satisfied with the $20 per month that they had collected for six months. I asked to speak to a supervisor and he confirmed this decision to charge me an additional $60 even though their tech support was unhelpful and, at least via email, completely unresponsive.


A Massachusetts-based company, www.galaxyvoice.com, offers the same basic service as Lingo, Packet8, and Vonage but without any monthly fee. Incoming calls are free. Outgoing calls to North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are 2.3 cents per minute. If you really like the service you can upgrade to a $20 per month unlimited plan. I have not tried out GalaxyVoice but I did call for tech support at 3 pm on a Saturday and was connected to a knowledgeable human immediately with no intervening touch-tone menu. GalaxyVoice will sell you a router or you can get them to recognize whatever router you purchased in a store or have left over from a painful experiment with Lingo or Vonage.

SkypeOut when in Hotels

If you travel with a laptop and stay in a hotel like the Hilton Garden Inn chain that provides free high-speed wired Internet it is worth considering a system like SkypeOut (www.skype.com). You have the laptop, which in most cases includes a speaker and microphone and can be augmented with a headset for $10. You have a fast reliable Internet connection. For 1.7 Euro cents per minute, or just over 2 U.S. cents, you can make calls to standard phone numbers within North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. There is no monthly fee and you top up your SkyeOut account with a credit card whenever you feel like. My personal experience with SkypeOut has been limited and mixed, with some long delays when calling from Boston to Boston and total failure when trying to call from a medium-speed Internet connection in Chile. However, there seem to be quite a few satisfied customers and tech support is generally not required.


At least to judge from Lingo and Vonage, switching to Voice over IP for your primary phone number only makes sense if you like spending many hours per year waiting on hold for technical support. In the case of Packet8 you'd also have to want unintelligible sound quality for your forwarded calls. A much better solution would be the cheapest possible traditional landline from the local phone company augmented by some sort of Voice over IP service. The landline is used for receiving incoming calls and for dialing toll-free numbers. For long outgoing calls to exotic destinations use either a Voice over IP dedicated box from whoever is cheapest or, if money is tighter yet, something like the SkypeOut service from your personal computer.

Technology to Watch

See if the traditional phone companies ever get around to implementing simultaneous ring. If you're away from home, someone calling your barebones home number can reach you on your mobile. If you're at home, you can make a discount call from a Voice over IP service.

Regulations to Watch

Governments in developed countries make a lot of money by taxing voice telecommunications. Cronies of the dictators of poor countries make a lot of money by charging the rabble 50 cents per minute to make international calls that should cost 2 cents per minute. A cheerful college kid using Skype or plugging a Vonage box into his already-paid-for dormitory network threatens to interrupt the flow of easy cash. Voice over IP traffic can theoretically be encrypted so that the Internet service providers and governments can't tell that it is actually voice traffic but, with current (2005) networks this would reduce sound quality. Right now it is pretty easy for an Internet service provider to figure out that a packet is VoIP and block it. Look for governments in rich countries to hit VoIP with taxes. Look for the owners of poor countries to make it illegal for their subjects to use VoIP.


Text copyright 2005 Philip Greenspun. Photos by Philip Greenspun, from a 2004 Day of the Dead trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.

Reader's Comments

I would point out, as I did when Philip blogged about this topic, that the problems he experienced were principally related to difficulties moving his old phone number to VoIP.

Number portability has been the law for years, but too often it still doesn't work right. On the other hand, if you don't need to keep your old phone number (or you're like me and _getting rid of_ your old phone number is among the primary reasons for wanting to switch to a non-ILEC carrier), there's no particular reason for you to care how difficult it is to move it.

I've had uniformly good experiences with Vonage since I signed up with them in 2002, bidding my old used-to-belong-to-a-fax-machine-and-SBC-wouldn't-let-me-change-it phone number a disgusted "good riddance!" and gaining in the process not merely some monthly savings but a handful of services not available from ILECs at any price.

IME, unless something goes wrong with your internet connection, it Just Works(tm).

-- Matt Landry, March 11, 2005

I've been using Vonage for over 6 months now and I really love it. I too had trouble with the switch over of my old POTS telephone number, but Vonage actually credited my SBC phone bill for the extra month I had to pay them so It didn't cost me anything extra. I found their customer service in this regard to be excellant.

My sound quality is excellant. Perhaps you were not using their QOS (Quality of Service) functionality on their VOIP router? If you were having bandwith contention then that would explain the lower quality you began experiencing after a while.

I would highly recommend Vonage to anyone that has been able to setup their own cable modem router or knows someone that can do that for them.

Later, Chad

-- Chad Sutton, March 11, 2005

I have had Vonage for 9 months and their technical support is extremely frustrating or non-existent. If you want sales you get them in a minute, if you are a "loyal" customer you wait over 45 minutes and then I just hang up. They are growing too fast or just think that their product doesn't require human intervention. I will likely go back to Verizon due to this. I'm not sure Vonage really cares.

With that said, service is highly dependent on the quality of your broadband provider. There are times when comcast is just terrible and so my phone service suffers. Not Vonage's fault but it does highlight weaknesses in the overall system. When the ISP's start overing the same service it may be better since you'll have one point of contact/failure.

-- Peter Nirenberg, March 12, 2005

I've have Vonage for about 10 months now and overall I like it enough that I'm going to stick with it. I had the same problems with porting my number over and after emailing (I never called them . . . didn't even know you could) several times over two months it finally got done. Of course, the web page I kept being referred to was never updated to let me know the porting was done. I found out myself when I noticed that my old phone never rang anymore.

I would only recommend people switch to Vonage if a) they have a lot of friends in Canada or b) they make a lot of long distance/international calls. In Phoenix, Cox will give you a $20 discount on your cable bill if you get the "big three" (Digital Cable, Internet, Phone) including a phone $40 phone package. We would be paying more with Vonage if it weren't for the fact that my girlfriend is from Canada and I have a good friend in Korea.

-- Sheldon McGee, March 15, 2005

I've had Vonage for over two years. I reviewed it after 3 months, and since then I'm still a happy customer.

I couldn't port my number because I was already signed up with a fleabag alternate carrier, so none of the portability issues came up. I've only had two times where I needed customer support, and one was resolved by email, the other by calling within 24 hours. Generally speaking the sound quality is good, but I have noticed some degradation on occasion, similiar to a dodgy cell phone call. It's hard to know if that was my service, though, since I am frequently talking to people on cell phones... But these instances are rare for me.

I consider myself the ideal Vonage customer in that I have good, reliable broadband, and use my phone very little. Thanks to Vonage, I've reduced my phone bill from $80 to $18 a month. I have no doubts that the customer service isn't ideal, but when I am paying bargain prices, I can understand waiting in a hold queue for a bit.

-- Mr. Nosuch, March 16, 2005
Since you've already signed up for Packet8, you don't really need to pay for SkypeOut calls from hotels. You can use the simultaneous ring feature and their Free World Dialup account to make calls.

In short: 1. Sign up for free world dialup (http://www.pulver.com/fwd) which is free 2. Get a softphone (X-Lite or Pulver Communicator are free) and log on 3. Go the packet8 web site, log on, and change your 'call forwarding' number to the destination that you want to reach 4. From the softphone call your own Packet8 number using the syntax **898-1-617-xxx-xxxx (where 1-617-xxx-xxxx is your packet8 number)

voila the call is forwarded. Just don't forget to reset the Packet8 website after the call's been dialed. Otherwise that person will get all your calls.

Of course, I just tried my softphone and it looks like the FWD-packet8 gateway is working intermittently right now.

-- Chris Yu, March 20, 2005

Very much enjoyed the web site, and all the comments.

I myself have used Lingo since July 2004. Life was absolutely perfect until 2 months ago, when dialed calls would take 20-50 seconds to complete, and we would have to wait up to 10 seconds before we could say 'hello' for people calling us.

Like previously explained, Lingo's Tier 1 customer support is almost disgusting. My web support case got the automatic reply but noone called back for 3 days. Called them three more times asking for a status, and they told me that someone was going to call me right back - never happened. Finally, with me almost at a rage now, was able to talk with one of the supervisors, who admitted that they have very limited experience, no access to anything important for troubleshooting, and located in Canada while the company techs are in the states. Although entertaining, didn't help at all with my overall problem. The supervisor did say that I should have received a response by Tier 2, and will make sure that they are aware of it when they have their next conference meeting that evening.

And, believe it or not, I did get a callback. Through the whole process I talked to two Tier 2 support techs, and both of them were wonderful to work with. Being a geek myself, we were able to test out some scenarios and talk turkey on what options were available. In the end, it was suggested that I call my ISP (Road Runner) for more help.

Customer service at RR is about the same; Tier 1 doesn't know anything of relevance - you have to go higher for real support. But, after some convincing they got me in touch with Tier 3 support. Lo' and behold the Tier 3 support tech admitted that they were having major problem with the internal DNS servers and try some public ones for a while. Did that, and the problem was resolved.

Went right back to Lingo, and they appreciated the call back since at the time of my complaint there were several other RR customers complaining of the same thing.

In conclusion, I called RR back yesterday asking to see if the DNS server issue was resolved. Of course Tier 1 didn't know what I was talking about, and when I got back to Tier 3 another tech said that the problem is supposed to be resolved but couldn't confirm it since I called from work and not from home. Also said that I shouldn't put the ATA between the modem and router. However, behind the router removes the supposed QoS and call quality. I did switch it all back to pre-problem configuration and life has been good so far.

-- Dean Hoover, March 25, 2005

I am a long-time Vonage user, and loved their service...in the beginning. They've outgrown their ability to support their service, and as I tell friends, "Don't change unless you have problems. Lord help you if you ever need to contact customer service."

I went through an entire week trying to contact them to cancel a fax line I'd added (which doesn't work well, but maybe be the quality of my broadband connection). I logged the time and it totaled 7 hours on hold without a response. Oh, correction: two times after an hour I rang through, only to be *disconnected* immediately. I tried to contact corporate headquarters and complain, but they have a recording there which directs you to call...customer service. They also provide a 1-800 sales number, which I tried. The automated message there? Contact customer service.

I eventually resolved the issue by FAXING the request to cancel the line (and including comments about all the trouble I've had reaching them), and received an emailed response, one terse line: "We have cancelled your fax line number." That was it...no apologies, no comments on my comments, etc.

Thanks for posting this article with alternates that I wasn't aware of...will be handy if my Vonage stops working (but I dread having to contact them to cancel the account...might take two weeks to do so).

-- Gary Varner, March 28, 2005

I have had VoicePulse the last 8 months and the service had been fantastic so far. They do not have 24 hour customer service though. They are the only carrier offering unlimited local regional calling plus for $15.

-- k s, March 31, 2005
I wish I had visited this page before I signed up with Lingo. Everything occured just a described. I signed up on early March. The "temporary" number they assigned me never worked...couldn't call out - couldn't call in. After the 20 day waiting period, I contacted customer support by email explaining the I had heard nothing and my phone wasn't working. On March 27th I received an answering email stating that my number could not be ported over. I phoned my local phone company and they said they could and would port the number over as soon as Lingo made the request. (I had already signed and faxed the required documents). On April 1st I again emailed Lingo explaining what I had discovered, and requested clarification. Today, (April 20th), I phoned customer support. After the obligatory 20 minute wait, I spoke with a human about my concerns. After much fumbling she announded that my number could not be ported over - no explanation from Lingo or my phone company. I inquired as to why they had not responded to my email of the 1st. Of course she had no idea about my email. I then expressed desire to opt out...which I could do for the cancellation fee of $39.95. Well, they got my money, but at least I am now free of them. In my opinion, this is a shyster operation with little or no concern for their customers. I asked to speak to a supervisor...as expected they were all busy with other calls. No Wonder! I mentioned that I knew I would not receive a return call. My recommendation...Run away from these people - they promise everything and deliver nothing! About all you get is a bill for two months of non-existant service and a cancellation fee. Cheap at the price I guess.

-- Gaylord Poole, April 20, 2005
You commentary about Lingo was very accurate except...

Your $5 per month charge infinitum relates to a 2nd number. When Lingo is setup they issue a temporary number. When the number port is complete you now have 2 numbers. Thant's why your Calling ID stayed persistent with the old Calling Line ID.

I had the same thing and called to have them obsolete the temporaryu number and make my Ported Number the primary account number.

Why we should have to do this shows they didn't have their procedure correct. The email told us to do nothing and the tempory number would drop off the account. If we had wanted to keep the temporary number and the ported number we were to contact them. They were reversed.

The support is still poor even with Canada. I haven't had to call them. 0800 numbers and 0845 numbers are incorrectly tarrifed as Premilum numbers when they are not, they should be charged as straight local numbers in both cases as the called party pays.

That said, I love the cost savings. Using Comcast the servcie is rock solid, I'm behind a Linksys router with QOS enabled. We save close to $75 per month using this service and have terminated our land line from Verizon.

-- Neil McAslan, April 27, 2005

(Mar.31)I've been using the Canadian version of Lingo (Primus Talk BroadBand; the Lingo trademark was already taken in Canada) since the beginning of the year. Call quality has been variable but steadily improving.

I have never called their tech support but have had occasion to email them on several occasions. Only once did ever I receive an email reply. On one other occasion I received a phone call in reply to an email support request, but no email response. The agent who called was very knowledgeable and polite and resolved my problem quickly. But mostly I had no contact from them, or even an automated response that my email had ever been received. Other users have mentioned 30-60 min. wait times on hold when phoning in to tech support. The few times where I would have called for help was when my service was not working, but as this was my only phone service... :-\

Upon first signing up, I was told that, as a signup bonus, they'd send me a dual handset cordless phone set. This duly arrived about a week later, but it took another week for the gateway box(ATA) to arrive. I then connected it (the ATA) as per their instructions but it would not connect to their server. This was when most of my email to them happened.

Finally when I had cc'd one of these emails to their customer service(CS) (as opposed to technical support) dept., I got a very prompt reply. They must have rattled a chain or two in tech support(TS) because my unit suddenly started working shortly thereafter. I subsequently discovered that I should have been told to call TS to have the service provisioned once I received the ATA.

Ever since, I have cc'd every email for tech support to customer service. I always get a reply from CS but never from TS and many times my questions go unanswered. I guess they assume that no one uses their service as primary phone service, and everyone always has another way to reach them by phone. :|

Fortunately for me, I have a background in both Telecom and IP networking and, with some help from Google, have been able to solve most of my problems. For the past six weeks or so the service has been quite good. And I love the extra features I never had before... getting voicemail as an email attachment is pretty cool :)

Update, May 11.: Call quality has been extremely variable, depending on how busy our cable Internet has been. I have since found out that my cableco/ISP has been doing load balancing across their network (covering most of Western Canada) which results in packets arriving out of order at the destination, disastrous for a service like this. Recently they began offering QoS (Quality of Service) as an option, which gives VOIP traffic priority, so I signed up for that and now it's just like POTS all the time :-) ...but at a $10Can./Mo. cost.

-- Ken Moren, May 12, 2005

This is a shameless plug for my company which Philip mentioned in his weblog. It's galaxyvoice.com, and we're a privately held, kick ass tech supporting, VoIP. We have plans that give you the number for free, and then you only have to pay per minute charges which are cheaper than the other players. So, if you want to support the little guy and make sure that my family doesn't have to live under a bridge in a cardboard box, please try us out. Bob Carp bob@gis.net

-- Bob Carp, May 18, 2005
I just wanted to say I have Vonage through Earthlink, it cost's about $5 more per month, but I call an Earthlink support number, I don't know if earthlink supports it, but I have never had much trouble getting to customer service, which I have had to use 3 times in about a year and a half, once on setup, once when I changed to a wireless router, and the third when I fried that router in an electrical storm. I am not saying the service aspects are any better than what I have read, but my bill is alot cheaper than when I had the old Verizon hard line. Plus I have boycotted all of Verizon services, so anything is better than giving them another cent in my opinion. P.S. They ported my number in 24 hours from Verizon.

-- Ty Keeth, July 17, 2005
I've had vonage since late June 2005. I decided to switch over the old phone number from Talk America. Did the on-line paper work. A few days later got the new router. Needed to get information on hooking it up to my current network which was already using a wireless router that I wanted to retain and have as the first router off the cable modem. Sent off an email to Vonage and a couple hours later got a nice response on just how to connect it all up. Must have been a standard question in the answer pool, but that's fine it all worked and they responded fast.

The one interesting thing was that the Vonage webpage would provide a log for the old number switch over. It listed the dates the request was sent to TA. I didn't bother using the VOIP connection, but did keep a phone hooked to the router. About 30 days later my old number got switched over and my VOIP phone was ringing under the old number. The funny thing is Vonage never let me know it was moved nor was there anything on the website. Low and behold last week, a month and a half later, I get an email from Vonage indicating my old phone number has been switched over and I should reset the router to make sure all works fine. Even the website indicated the change over. Kind of late to tell me the switch over was made a month and a half after I've been using it ;)

I guess this industry is just growing so fast. I'm sure we'll experience these growing pains for a while. Still it's been very good so far with Vonage. The only real problems were during the first week of the phone number switch over and that was a problem with the cable provider and not Vonage.

I love paying $16.50 total a month instead of the $65+ to TA for a plan that is advertised at $39.95/month unlimited. All those fee's and taxes do add up fast!

Don B

-- Don Buska, September 9, 2005

I signed up with Sunrocket Last month. It is 24.99 a month. No additional fees. This covers unlimited calls to US and Canada. 300 minutes to most other countries. The equipment and "gizmo" arrived two days after I signed up. Installation was super easy. It took less than a month to port the #. Most of the porting can be done online, but I was porting a number that had originally beena landline that i had transferred to cricket and cricket wasn't on the list of providers you could transfer online.I called sunrocker to ask how to go abuot it and they quickly, while I was ont he phone , sent the form to my email. I had called sunrocket with a question and I got someone who appeared to be in the country.. a big plus. Vonage, I couldn't understand them. I had called with a question as well upon trying to decide. I called again today, with a porting question, as my phone was now ringing here but I ahdnt' gotten teh confirmation email. I also wanted to cancel the number they'd given me temporarily , to avoid teh fee for a third #. You get two free (So i have a number on the other side of the country so friends can call me free)Well, they weren't totally done with the porting yet,so they noted the acct adn won't be charging me for the 3rd #. Everything so far has been great. Good voice quality. No long waits for support. Some really need features, all available online at their site. You can click on a contact from their site and it dials for you. You also can listen to voicemail online. I'd highly recommend them.

-- Teresa V, February 21, 2006
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed my house in New Orleans, we move to temporary quarters in Atlanta. We had an internet connection because we were always able to get cable TV but it was impractical to get a hard wired land line so I signed up with Vonage.

Getting rid of our New Orleans number was a blessing as we had been besieged by telephone solicitors, crank calls and request for donations for years. I finally had to turn off my childrenęs line due to obscene calls.

Vonage worked great from the start. it was up and running in minutes. The bill has been under $30 and the same amount every month. Quite a difference from the $125 to $150 we were paying Bell South in New Orleans for local and long distance service.

I love the voicemail feature where I can get voicemail over the internet or from an outside line and am alerted whenever one comes in via email. This is very handy because I travel a lot.

Free long distance is a big plus because now all our friends and family are scattered all over the country.

Another big plus was that I just plugged in the Vonage router each time we moved and we had phone service with the same phone number. We are going to keep our Atlanta phone number even if we ever move back to New Orleans.

The only thing I could never get working was plugging the Vonage router into the land line wiring system of the house we purchased in Atlanta. I finally installed a wireless phone system.

I tried plugging the RJ11 from the Vonage into a wall outlet. You could make and receive calls but the sound quality was so poor you could not understand the other person.

To me, Vonage has been a godsend.


-- Gary Waters, March 31, 2006

I would not use Lingo, company ripped me off, please read on: I contacted Lingo to sign up for their service. They took my credit card info and signed me up for an account. I never received their product to connect up to their network. They have been charging my credit card since 2004 until Jan 2007. I could not use their service because I had no means to connect to it: they had to provide the box, they never did. I escillated my complaint to the executive level, they cited their contract that said billing starts 3 weeks after signing up. A company that bills it's customers, does not provide the product required to use their service, and then will not do ANYTHING to compensate is not a company that I would want to do business with. My email is posted (john.govern@gmail.com) and I will be happy to forward my email correspondence to anyone to prove what I am saying is true. I cannot comment on their service because I was NEVER able to use it. My question to you is: Is this the kind of company that you want to do business with? I cannot recommend anyone else because I have never used their services, I just know that Lingo ripped me off.

-- John Govern, February 2, 2007
If you're going to have an ILEC landline at the cheapest price anyway, and your main interest in VOIP is reducing the price of long distance, you might also consider something like RNK Telecom's prepaid calling card, which has local access numbers throughout Massachusetts. That may end up getting you rates that are just as good without the tech support hassles of VOIP. Especially if you go for the second cheapest plan that gives you a limited free local calling area.

While you may have 384kb/s or more on your cable modem in both directions, and you may only need about 64kb/s in both directions, one of the features of IP is that it lets many connections be multiplexed on the same link, and in general the equipment that's out there isn't necessarily set up to make sure that your VOIP calls get their 64kb/s no matter what. I've certainly found myself having to kill a bittorrent client on one occasion to get adequate VOIP quality (although the VOIP was buried in an IPsec VPN which my cable provider may not have recognized as VOIP even if they were trying to be helpful).

Ideally, the router on each end of each potentially saturated link should be doing priority queueing to make sure that every time the link is ready for another packet, a VOIP packet goes across the link if a VOIP packet is waiting. Some of those routers are controlled by your cable company.

Given that most cable modem providers also seem to sell voice phone service (for which they're often using VOIP internally, I hear), it seems to me that they have a disincentive to make services like Vonage work well for their customers.

I also suspect that part of how VOIP providers try to keep costs under control so that they can offer lower rates than a traditional landline involves skimping on quality of tech support. (Of course, if this increases call volume, it is probably a false economy.)

I recently had to get my ILEC to fix my landline, which involved calling them on a Monday, having them promise to come out on a Wednesday, and then calling them back on a Friday when nothing had happened on that Wednesday. The people I talked to on the Friday seemed to actually care that my service got fixed, and it did get fixed Saturday morning without any further effort on my part.

The FCC now requires interconnected VOIP providers to do the right thing with E911, and has for well over a year. The main caveats are that if you move your VOIP equipment, you are responsible for telling your VOIP provider your new address; and not all of the US is covered by the companies that route VOIP E911 calls for your VOIP provider. (However, some parts of the US don't even have any 911 service at all for landlines anyway.)

-- Joel Weber, July 24, 2007

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