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Learn from my mistakes #6: VoIP Internet Phones

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My Experience with Voice Over IP Phones

VoIP, Internet Phones, Internet Telephones, Vonage, Skype

 We have used VOIP or Internet Phones for a couple of years now.  I started with one extra line for use when I work from home, and eventually moved the home line and added a dedicated Fax line as well.

The VOIP lines from Vonage usually work very well.  On occasion we get choppy audio if someone is downloading or if the Internet is slow.  (We have a 3Meg Cable Internet connection.)

I recently started playing with Skype, as well.  I now have a Skype account set up to use on my laptop and PDA for when I travel.  I have traveled throughout the world and my Cingular cell phone typically works anywhere - but on occasion it can't find a partner provider (Example: Norita, Japan).  However I can almost always find an Internet connection.


Vonage   CLICK for Vonage Website

Vonage has Adapters that hook up to your Ethernet connection from a Cable or DSL high-speed modem.  They now have wireless adapters as well that plug into Ethernet and act as a wireless hub for your network.  The Vonage adapters can provide up to 2 phone lines, so we have 2 Vonage adapters to provide our Home line, my Work line, and a Fax line.

I have traveled with my Vonage adapter and plugged it into hotel Internet LAN, and it worked very well.  However, you need to carry a phone to plug into it as well - and it can't be a phone that uses A/C because you never can tell what voltage you'll get Internationally, and most cordless phones sold in North America won't accept International voltages.  Your laptop then plugs into the Vonage adapter and pulls a DHCP address from the Vonage box, and everything works pretty smoothly - including network login if the hotel requires it.

Vonage recently added a wireless hand phone that uses WiFi wireless internet to connect directly to Vonage - thus you carry a cellphone-like phone that will operate anywhere you can connect to wireless.  I haven't actually used one, but I foresee one particular problem when traveling: (From Vonage Site: Please note that Hotspots that require a user name login, or credit card entry are not supported at this time. Also some free Hotspots require a web interface to acknowledge use, which the F1000 doesn't support.)

 Most Hot Spots when traveling require at least that you click on an acceptance page (where their advertising is).  Many hotels will give you an access number for the Internet, and some times you need to pay for the access number.  None of these common Hotspots will work with the Vonage WiFi handphone.  I'd be more tempted to go for their integrated Phone Adapter and dual-handset 5.8GHz vTech Handsets - but this still may not allow you to roam Internationally unless you carry a voltage adapter with you to convert to North American A/C for the router and phone charger.

The main disadvantage with Vonage is you cannot access one account or line from multiple adapters or computers.  For example, I wish their Softphone (VoIP Software) could access my main telephone account, which I pay $24.95 per month to have unlimited calling.  If I use Softphone, I pay an additional $9.95 per month, and it only comes with 500 minutes.  I'd rather pay $4.95, and have it piggyback an existing account and charge the minutes against a line I'm already paying for.  So, that's what led me to Skype.


Skype  CLICK for Skype Website

 USB VoIP Phone from Radio Shack (Model: voIP Voice "Cyberphone K")

I have to admit all of my experience with Skype so far has been fooling around with it to see what I can make it do.  So far the biggest bonus over Vonage is they have software that will work on Pocket PC for use on my iPaq PDA.  This means I can connect to wireless internet wherever I can pick it up (restaurants, hotels, sitting in a car outside an apartment building/library/etc.) and make a phone call.  (The down side on my particular iPaq H4155 is that I cannot get a Bluetooth headset to work with it, and there is no external jack for a microphone, so sound quality on the IPaq is poor - using the internal microphone.)

I did buy a voIP USB phone to use with Skype.  The phone is plugged into my home Desktop and I found that if it was plugged into the USB hub, it stopped working occasionally.  If its plugged into a USB port in the computer it seems to work fine.  I bought the phone to take on trips and plug into my laptop - but the phone requires software to be loaded, and I don't have Administrative Access to the company laptop - so I can use the phone for Audio (speaker/mic) on a call, but I cannot dial from the phone keypad, and the phone doesn't ring when I use it on the Laptop.  (My workaround it to leave the laptop speaker on, and dial using the computer screen/mouse/keyboard.)  Really at this point, I'll probably start looking for a good headset with mic.  If I could enable Bluetooth on the laptop (my IT department won't do it for me) I could use a Bluetooth headset with Skype and that would work very well.

The cool thing about Skype is you can pay US$10 for 3 months service and have an Internet phone available for backup.  I'll probably experiment with setting up a few friends on Skype as well, as in-network calling is free.  The only down side I've seen so far is they don't offer an Unlimited minutes package.  I could do the math and see if that really matters with the amount of use we go through, but I'd really rather pay a fixed price and never need to worry about it.  We have 2 boys about to hit their teens.

The other nice thing is I can log onto Skype on any of my computers and PDA, and make and receive calls from the same account.  I don't need to set up an account wired into my home phone system and another one while I'm traveling.

If Skype ever offers an unlimited minutes plan, and if their audio quality turns out to be good after trying it a few months, I'll probably be tempted to switch.

If Vonage improved their audio quality, and offered online access to make and receive calls, they're my tried-and-true VoIP choice, with a lot of extra features that make them much more flexible than Skype (like being able to simultaneously ring multiple phone numbers when my Vonage line rings.  Anyone calling my desk will simultaneously ring my cell phone - I can also have out home phone ring my cell phone when we go out at night.

What both of them lack is a cool Fax package.  It would be nice to set up a "virtual" fax number and receive faxes and have them e-mailed to you as a PDF document.  Then you'd be pretty close to having a "homeless" home office.  (Outgoing faxes could be sent on your unlimited voice line, with your fax SSID set to the "virtual" fax number.)

As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to contact me.


CLICK for Vonage Website      CLICK for Skype Website






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Copyright 2006 Jeff's Garage
Last modified: 01/18/07


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