I wish ALL the products I test could be set up and operate as smoothly and as trouble-free as has my test of the Vonage product and service!  The world would be a better place.

If you don’t know the name – Vonage (pronounced VAHN-ahj), you might want to learn about them as I did.  What is Vonage?  Think telephone without the phone company.  Think phone using the Internet.  And, it works great.

But why?  How about the possibility of saving money over your traditional phone service at home?  It is also a portable device you can take with you on business travel that can be plugged into just about broadband connection to provide YOUR local phone number anywhere in the world.  How’s that for portability!  At home, at the office or on the road, plug in a phone to the “box” connected to the broadband connection, and make or take calls as if you were wired to the phone company.

Can anyone get Vonage?  No.  You need a broadband (high speed) connection to the Internet using a cable modem or DSL.

Here’s the deal.  Whether you have a single computer connected to that broadband connection or multiple computers connected through a wired or wireless router, Vonage works.

You sign up.  They send you a box, the Phone Adapter.  In most cases, plug it in, like I did, to the router and to the power adapter.  Plug in a phone to the adapter (I used my VTech 5.8 GHz cordless with three handsets).  Wait just a few minutes for the adapter to register itself over the Internet.  Pick up the phone and dial (all calls must include the1+area code+(xxx)-xxx-xxxx).  I did not find it a problem to get used to dialing the extra digits.  I also programmed frequently called numbers into the VTech cordless phones.

In my case, it was that simple.  What a thrill and a treat.  Plug it in, it works.  It came all set up.  I had asked for a local number in my own area code.

Having tested the Vonage service for a few months, I can tell you it works nearly perfectly with my DSL.  The only time it has been down has coincided with occasional DSL service interruption, which has been minimal.  The fix is to restart my modem, the router, and then unplug and then re-plug in the adapter for Vonage.  I have used the Vonage service for everything from local to long-distance calling, and even international calling.  I often have asked the party on the other end of the call if they detected anything to indicate I was not on a traditional phone company line.  In each case, the answer was a positive, “No.”

Since Vonage shares the broadband connection with anyone else also sharing the connection, I was concerned that my Internet service would suffer or my calls through Vonage would suffer if others were heavily taxing the Internet at the same time.  You know, downloads and the like while on a call using Vonage.  My fears were quashed.  There was no service degradation either on my voice call or in the performance of the Internet.  Vonage peacefully coexists with all the computers using my DSL.  It’s amazing, really.

What about traveling with the Vonage box?  As the Vonage representative put it to me, “The Vonage box makes a great travel companion. Its dimensions are similar to a personal CD player (such as the Sony Discman), so it’s easy to carry. You can use it anywhere in the world where you have a high-speed Internet connection. Bring it anywhere overseas and you won’t pay international dialing rates when you call back home. The same is true when you travel to other area codes in the U.S., and the travel option works for both business and residential Vonage accounts.

So let’s say that you live in Chicago and bring your Phone Adaptor on a trip to Hong Kong. With Vonage you can call your next-door neighbor from Hong Kong and it’s priced like a local domestic call. This is also true when your neighbor calls you. Your Phone Adaptor ensures that your area code and phone number travel with you. So it’s very convenient for people dialing you also.”

Who should consider Vonage?  It’s all about economics, I guess, as well the desire by some to not work with traditional phone companies.

Currently, Vonage plans start at about $15 per month and range up to $35 per month for unlimited calls in the US and Canada.  Their international rates are also excellent.  Just have a look on their Website for the details.

Be sure to also look at the extras Vonage users get with each plan:

  • FREE Voicemail
  • FREE Caller ID with Name
  • FREE Call Waiting
  • FREE Call Forwarding
  • FREE Call Transfer
  • FREE Three Way Calling
  • Free Calling to Vonage Users
  • Any area code of your choice
  • Keep your current number
  • Virtual Phone Numbers
  • Toll Free Plus
  • Great International Rates
  • Int’l Fees to Canada Waived!
  • Money-Back guarantee

When comparing what you now pay for your traditional phone service, be sure to include the no-cost extras from Vonage, such as Caller ID, Voicemail, Call Waiting, and the other services listed above.  Here are even more features.

Small business unlimited plans are currently $50 per month and include a fax line – the adapters have provisions for two lines.

I was highly skeptical at first. I have had experience with other Internet-based telephony, and none was transparent and as if I was using the old, reliable phone company.  Even with a cheaper price, I was not willing to have service that was not every bit as simple and reliable as the phone company, no matter how inexpensive it was.  With the other methods, I had to plug something directly into my computer and it was not just like, well, using a phone the way I was used to, as we all are similarly accustomed.  It was not for me, but I can see how it may be right for some with special situations.

Not so with Vonage.  It IS very nearly as reliable as the old way, offers wonderful features without extra cost and is an inexpensive alternative, with the added bonus of portability.

I had a few concerns, however, that the company has successfully addressed.  What about a call to 911, for example?  The 911 service must be activated through Vonage, and users must specify the physical address of the Vonage line.  When 911 is dialed, the call is routed to the local emergency personnel location designated to that address.  So, it is important to provide the location of the box when moving to a new location.  This is an important consideration, also, when traveling with the adapter for use other than at home base.  On the other hand, it is important to activate the feature so anyone at home, family, visitors, babysitters, etc, can dial 911 in an emergency and get the proper response as expected.  Since the call does not go to the traditional 911 emergency response center the caller will need to state the nature of the emergency promptly and clearly, including the location and telephone number, as the Public Service Answering Point personnel will NOT have this information at hand.

Directory assistance is available at a cost of $1 per call, so use the Internet!

What if my power goes out?  If the power is out, power to your Vonage box, router, cable or DSL modem, and possibly your phone itself if it requires power will all be dead.  A workaround I use may work for you.  I plug it all into an inexpensive battery backup system, such as the $60 APC BE500U (or stronger unit) that should provide a few hours of run time in a power failure so your phones will continue to be available.  As a bonus, your laptops with wireless Internet capability will still cruise the Internet so long as your service is not otherwise affected.

What about competitors?  With more than 100,000 subscribers, Vonage has emerged as the premier Internet phone company, and this market is growing fast.  Vonage’s features and reliable service also set it apart from most competitors.  Major competitors include Packet8, Net2Phone, Qwest, Verizon and MCI, with more to surely follow.

Should you get Vonage?  Even if you have DSL?  It seems a better fit for cable modem users who do not rely on their phone lines for other services.  However, even for DSL users, it still may be cheaper to get a Vonage “line” or even multiple Vonage phone lines, in addition to your phone line used for DSL if you can save money.  You might save money with the unlimited long distance as well as other services, and then reduce your existing phone company service on that remaining line to simple, basic service at the lowest cost.  Switch to using the Vonage service for regular phone use.  Many of you will experience dramatic savings.  Odds are in favor of Vonage!

The Vonage service occupies a certain amount of the available bandwidth, depending upon a setting that most of us will never need to touch.  If required, there is a method by which you can select to sacrifice some quality of service in exchange for using less of the available bandwidth.  In my case, I left things alone and the quality is excellent.

I believe that Vonage is worth investigating, and it is now available through all Circuit City stores as well as on the company Website.  More information directly from Vonage is at 1-VONAGE-HELP (1-866-243-4357

Don’t be afraid to leave the comfort of what you now know.  There may be a better phone company for you, and it might just be Vonage!

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