Vonage: The FAQ

Sweet Vonage Hat

Vonage, is it for you? Well, if you are semi-computer literate and enjoy talking long distance and saving money, then I’d have to say Vonage is for you.

The Basics: What is Vonage?

Vonage is a VOIP telephony provider. VOIP or Voice Over IP, is a technology for transmitting ordinary telephone calls over the Internet using IP instead of using the standard public switched telephone network. Essentially, Vonage lets you make your telephone over through the computer, over the Internet.

Why Should I Get Vonage?

Well, for one, it’s cheaper, like way cheaper than regular phone service. Back in my Verizon days when I suscribed to the FreedomTM plan, I payed $49.99/month for unlimited local and long distance calling, plus my choice of three popular calling features. With taxes and FCC charges, that came to approximately $75, a month. Sounds like a good deal you say, well for $24.99/month with Vonage you get unlimited local and long distance calling along with 8 Verizon like calling features (Voicemail Plus, Caller ID with Name, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, 3-Way Calling, Call Transfer, Call Return, Repeat Dialing) and several more features that are exclusive to Vonage. If you aren’t a heavy phone user, you may also want to consider the Vonage Basic Plan for $14.99/month, it has all the same features as the unlimited plan, but you are limited to 500 total local and long distance minutes a month, (after which, you are subject to a small surcharge for additional minutes). You may want to examine some of your old phone bills to find out which plan is a better fit for you.

How is the Quality?

Overall, I would give Vonage a quality rating of very good to excellent. 95% of the time, I detect no difference in sound quality between a Vonage phone and a traditional line. On a rare occasion, I get a bit of an echo or “tin-can” effect. From time to time, I will miss a call for no apparent reason. These are the major qualms I have with Vonage in terms of quality, but given the huge price break I am getting, I’m not going to switch back to a traditional line. The other potential drawbacks with Vonage are somewhat related. If you have spotty cable service, you will have spotty Vonage service, and, if you have a power outage in your area, you won’t have phone service. All is not lost however, in the event of a power or cable outage, Vonage allows you to specify a backup phone number so that you can still receive calls if your Vonage is out. This may sound reassuring, but you should probably know that the last time we had a blackout here, the cell phone grid failed too. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all, cheapskates.

What if I have a House Alarm?

Well, if you have a home security system that uses the telephone you probably shouldn’t get Vonage. Or, at least, if you have a house alarm, and you still decide to get Vonage for long distance, you should still maintain a traditional land line for your security system. I’m just guessing, but maintaining two separate lines probably negates the cost benefit of having Vonage.

Can I use Vonage with Tivo?

Well, the short answer is a qualified yes. If you have a Series II Tivo, you can use the Home Networking Option to update your listings with a Wi-Fi (802.11b) connection . If you are a Tivo geek, you are probably doing this anyway. When I had a Tivo, you could not update your Tivo listings (in the tradtional sense) through your Vonage line. However, according to Vonage site, this may now be possible.

What are the Cool Vonage Features?

Well, there are many, but here are some of the ones that you may find interesting.

Voicemail Plus: You can check your voicemail over the internet, so you can listen to your messages on the Vonage website. You can also check your calls the traditional way, using your phone line. You can also configure your voicemail to have your messages forwarded to you as .wav file attachments. The other cool thing about the Vonage voicemail is that you get notice of your voicemail messages in email format, this way if someone calls you while you are at work, you get an email telling you you have a message.

Voicemail Tip: When configuring your email address for voicemail notification, you can’t choose select multiple addresses, but you can choose an email address that forwards to multiple addresses. This way, you can get notification of the email at work and at home and anywhere else you like (your cellphone for instance). I should note, that not everyone can do this, you need to have a mail service that can accomodate multiple address mail forwarding.

Call Forwarding: Vonage supports traditional Call Forwarding, but it also supports a type of advanced Call Forwarding that will ring your main number as well as a secondary number at the same time. This way, you can have Vonage ring your home number and your cell phone at the same time.

Click 2 Call: When you need to dial someone’s number, but just muster the juice to press all those buttons, that’s when this little baby comes in handy. Click 2 Call is a little application that you can download from the Vonage website, it works as a plug-in to Outlook. When you have it running and you are browsing your contacts, you can just click on the little phone icon beside the name and the app will place the call. Since I often look up people’s numbers in Outlook, I use this feature quite a bit.

Virtual Numbers: It’s a pretty cool idea, you can get a phone number with a different area code for each city where your friends or family live. Now, there are some things to think about here, do you want to be this altruistic? Really, what you are doing is paying so that your friends can call for you for free. You can already call them for free because you have Vonage, but now you are paying an extra $5.00/month (plus activation) so they can have the pleasure of talking to you for free. Nobody is going to complain, I’m sure, but it usually takes people some time to catch on to the fact that they you actually have a local number.

I’ve got Vonage, which Phone should I Buy?
Good question. The short answer is, you probably want a cordless phone system with expandable satellite handsets. In other words, the kind of phone which will only need one physical phone jack, but can have many handsets. What about range? 900 mhz? 2.4 ghz? 5.8 ghz? Well, if you planning on using wi-fi in your home, namely, 802.11b, you should probably avoid phones in the 2.4 ghz range as they tend to interfere with (802.11b) wi-fi connections. 900 mhz phones are fine with all flavors of wi-fi, the only drawback is, these phones are generally older technology and are more susceptible to digital eavesdropping. 5.8 ghz phones do not generally interfere with current wi-fi technology, (they are 802.11b and 802.11g safe, but the jury is still out on the less popular 802.11a standard), so they are also a viable option for a Vonage customer.

Manhattan gadabout, Charlie Suisman, likes the Uniden TRU-8885-2. I have the three handset version of this phone, which I purchased it at Costco for $159+tax. The good, reception is very clear. The bad, phone is a little small for cradling between your ear and your shoulder. Other beefs include the combined limited 100 number phonebook/caller ID, the non-shared phonebooks among handsets (although it is possible to transfer from the base to a handset I think), and some folks also complain about substandard range (hasn’t been a problem for me in my apartment). The one thing this phone has that you really don’t need is an answering machine, it’s just kind of a waste, because you won’t ever use it. What’s more useful to a Vonage user is a message waiting indicator, so you know if you have voicemail or not without picking up the phone. I didn’t really want the answering machine model, but Costco had it and it was cheaper than the non-answering machine model (Uniden TRU-8865), so I went for it.

Number Transfer Woes
The rub, you say. Yes, there is a bit of a rub here and it is the number transfer process. What is it you say? Well, in order to keep your old number and have service with Vonage, you need to have them switch you onto their system first. Problem is, you really have almost no control over how long this process takes. The only thing you can do to speed this process along is make sure you fax your number transfer referral form as soon as possible. If you don’t, you will be stuck paying two phone bills for longer than you need to. Vonage’s massive advertising, and increasing popularity have lead some folks to experience longer than normal number transfer times. Though a confluence of unfortunate events, I was one of those people who got stuck in a long number transfer queue and somewhere along the line someone told me it shouldn’t take longer than 21 days. So once my number finally transferred over, I called Vonage and asked for credit to my account for the amount of time that it took to transfer my number in excess of 21 days, and I got it.

Referrals = Free Vonage
Once you’ve got Vonage, tell all y0ur friends. If you refer someone through your Vonage referral manager, you will get at least one free month of service (right now they are running a deal for two free months) and so will they. If you get enough referrals, you might also get a cool free hat like the one up top ;-).

Oh yeah, if you want to sign up for Vonage, shoot me an email, if you think I deserve it.