Choosing the right VoIP Plan
Nearly everyone can name their favorite Vonage commercial, but how many people can actually describe what Vonage offers? They are one of the leading VoIP, or Voice-over IP, providers. VoIP is using your IP, or Internet Protocol, to communicate audibly with another user. Essentially, VoIP is your telephone service, where you use your Internet service instead of a telephone service to call someone who is on a traditional telephone or computer.
You should consider more than just commercials when you choose a VoIP. Choosing a VoIP carrier is very much like choosing a telephone provider – you need to make sure the carrier offers the services you want, the quality you desire and a price you can afford.
Just like traditional phone service, VoIP providers usually offer services like:
1. 3-Way Calling
2. Call Waiting
3. Call Forwarding
4. Caller ID with Name
5. 911 Dialing (required of all VoIP providers, some are non-compliant)
6. Long Distance Service (see next section)
7. Last Call Return
9. Message Notification
10. Call Logs
11. Speed Dial
12. Local Number Transfer (explained below)
If you already have a telephone number established through your traditional service provider, you actually own that number. Many VoIP carriers will transfer or port your current telephone number to their service for free or very little cost. No need to call everyone you know and inform them of a new number.
Access to long distance service is a feature that deserves it’s own explanation. On most traditional calling plans, you either pay a flat rate for a number of minutes or pay a specified cost per minute. It costs money to connect a phone in Connecticut to one in California over traditional lines.
Over the Internet, though, it doesn’t cost anything more to connect across the country (or continent, in most cases) as it does to connect with a computer across the street. For this reason, VoIP carriers are able to offer free, unlimited long distance throughout the US and often include Canada, Mexico and even parts of Europe. They don’t all offer such a plan, but many do. If you call across the country or across the pond, look for a free long distance plan.
Can you hear me now? Service is great but if your friend can’t hear you, it doesn’t much matter that the long distance call is free or that you could potentially plug another friend into a three way call. Call quality is imperative.
Find neighbors or others in your area that use the service you are considering before you sign up. Some VoIP carriers will give you the names and numbers of a few customers in your area, others will not. If you are in a large metropolitan area, you might put up a free listing on Craigslist asking for reviews of the service in your particular neighborhood.
If you can’t find a neighbor with the service, ask the provider about any free trial offers or a money back guarantee. Many providers understand that consumers don’t want to be strapped into a two year contract on a service they can’t actually use as designed. Since the technology is still pretty new and service areas not as defined as traditional telephone service and VoIP isn’t guaranteed, many carriers offer a two to four week trial period.
Contracts and Costs
You’ve found a VoIP carrier with the services you like and call quality that is acceptable. Now onto the contracts, costs and connections.
You need a broadband connection for VoIP. You can either get this through a separate telephone line or cable company. Since you probably use the Internet anyway, this isn’t really a telephone cost. Some VoIP carriers offer broadband service in addition to voice service, for an additional cost.
Some VoIP carriers offer free phone adapters, others offer them for a fee. A phone adapter essentially connects to any broadband connection and allows you to use it like your home phone – without additional fees.
Contracts range from 6 months to 2 years. Some offer minutes packages like cell phone providers, others offer unlimited minutes. Extra fees may apply to calls made to mobile phones, to Alaska or Hawaii, internationally or during specific days and times. Cancellation before fruition of your contract may cost you a hundred dollars or more.
A few VoIP carriers are now offering free, unlimited calling, including internationally, for a one-year commitment and one time fee. One such provider advertises $199 will buy a full year of VoIP telephony service – that comes to $16.58 per month.
If you plan on using VoIP as a complete replacement for your traditional telephone service, you should know the service may not perform in case of emergency.
While 911 access has been required of all VoIP since 2005 by the FCC, some are still non-compliant as of February, 2007. It’s not that 911 calls won’t connect, the problem is that the location of the call source (presumably your home) is not transmitted to the emergency dispatcher.
In the case of a power outage, your DSL router and computer will be unusable unless they are both connected to a UPS or uninterruptible power supply. If you use a power generator during power outages, you could plug your router and computer to it for a short time for making a call or two.
You might not want to get rid of your old fashioned phone, just in case there’s an emergency and you’re out of power.