~~~~ INTRODUCTION ~~~~
Despite the technology having been around for the best part of a decade, many people are still unaware what VoIP (or Voice Over Internet Protocol) is and what the benefits of using it are, so here is your crash course.
VoIP is a method of converting your voice into digital data which can be transmitted over a network, and in most instances, across the internet. It is a direct replacement for copper phone lines that we have used for over 100 years. With the right equipment, you can plug in a standard telephone (both corded and cordless are fine) and make calls over the internet to any other telephone just as if you were using the copper-based system.
Many providers exist in the VoIP market but some are better than others in packaging their services for a domestic market, to make setup and installation as easy as possible for even the most hardened technophobe.
Vonage are an American VoIP provider who have been providing their services in the US and UK for many years. They offer a service whereby you purchase a simple adaptor that you plug into your broadband router to which you then connect your existing telephone equipment.
To use Vonage' services you are going to need an existing broadband service (both ADSL and Cable will work fine, as will the newer BT Infinity and other branded Fibre products), a router (usually provided by your broadband supplier) and your existing telephone equipment.
Once you sign up to Vonage, you'll be provided with a new telephone number of your choice (and the option of buying additional virtual numbers - ideal if you run a business) and a simple telephone adaptor that sits between your telephone handset and your broadband router.
Vonage provide extremely simple setup instructions in-box, but the basic premise is; plug the adaptor into your router using the supplied cable, plug your telephone into the adaptor and finally connect the adaptor to the mains. A couple of minutes later and the adaptor will have registered with the Vonage network and you'll be able to make and receive calls using your new number. Easy!
If you have grown attached to your current landline number then Vonage will help you to bring it across from your current provider - most providers will allow number porting in the UK but check with them first to avoid issues.
The packages Vonage currently offer (correct as of the date of this review) are;
V-PLAN UK @ £5.99/month - offering unlimited UK calls and 20 call features
V-PLAN 2 @ £8.99/month - as per V-PLAN UK + 26 additional countries of inclusive calls
V-PLAN 3 @ £10.99/month - as per V-PLAN UK + 42 additional countries of inclusive calls
V-PLAN 4i @ £18.99/month - as per V-PLAN UK + 49 additional countries of inclusive calls
There are always special offers to be had on www.vonage.co.uk - currently there are introductory offers of 3 months reduced calling plans.
Vonage offer an incredible array of features as standard - most traditional phone providers would charge in the region of £1 per feature. I won't list all of the features here but the most useful examples include caller display (to display the number of the incoming caller), voicemail (to take calls whilst you are out) and anonymous call block (to prevent callers who block/withhold their number from getting through to you).
For the full range of features, visit http://www.vonage.co.uk/inclusive-call-features/
~~~~VONAGE VS TRADITIONAL LANDLINE PROVIDER~~~~
There are some differences between a traditional landline provider and a VoIP provider such as Vonage, some of which may be the difference between you going with a VoIP provider or a traditional telephone provider.
For a start you must have a broadband connection, as VoIP is wholly reliant on accessing the internet. This has some pitfalls, not least the fact that if you lose your internet connection, you'll also lose the ability to make and receive calls. Vonage do help out a little here as they will automatically divert your incoming calls to a number of your choice should your service be down.
If you live in a household that makes heavy use of your internet connection, then the quality of your calls may suffer as the call data contends with the other data trying to get down the line. I have experienced drop outs, echoes and a dramatic drop in quality whilst I've been downloading and trying to make a phone call but it rarely happens so maybe not so much of a problem for you.
You'll need to register emergency contact details with Vonage which are used to associate your account with any calls made to the Emergency services - this is a formality I believe.
You will also be allocated a telephone number which is taken from a pool of numbers reserved for VoIP use - in practical terms this can mean issues with incoming calls made from the same area code (where you'd generally omit dialling the code). Your caller may receive an engaged or out of service tone if dialling you from the same area code having omitted the code. I'm not sure if this has been resolved now, but I joined Vonage four years ago and since first having the problems I always make a point of telling people to dial the area code. You may also find people say "Is that the right telephone number?" when you give them your number - in my town, our traditional telephone numbers start with a 4 but my Vonage number begins with a 5 which always causes confusion.
There are both pro's and con's to taking a VoIP service over a traditional telephone service, not least the dramatic reduction in costs - the price of the cheapest Vonage package is less than half that of BT's cheapest option and Vonage include unlimited calls and a host of additional features.
If you live in a connected home, then you likely have everything you need to slot a Vonage service into and begin making great savings. If you don't currently have broadband then it simply isn't for you.
Vonage is one of the best purchases I have ever made. I completely understand that skepticism kicks in when you see an American company selling cheap phone packages in the UK amidst very large players like BT and Virgin. I was one of those people until my boy friend convinced me to try it.
There is an initial outlay of approximately £40 (may vary depending on your current broadband set-up). On the bright side, there is no contract and you can cancel whenever you like.
They have a variety of plans that suit individual needs and from observation, I can tell that it is consistently cheaper than BT.
I have a package where I pay £7.99 a month for free call to 15 countries including the UK and the US. This plan automatically includes day time calls as well (unlike BT). 0845 and 0870 numbers are cheaper to call as well.
The best part about this phone is they are portable. The adapter can be carried anywhere with you and can be plugged into any broadband socket and you are good to go. This means, that if you went of holiday abroad and wanted to call your family, you will not have to incur roaming charges. All you pay for is accessing broadband in the local area and you are ready to chat away!
My family live abroad and I have bought 2 phone lines and installed the other at my parent's place. We can now chat away for all long as we like although we are 4000 miles apart!
Definitely recommended, especially if you have a very global lifestyle!
I know it seems that all my product reviews are for brilliant products (I must find something that I don't like...) but this service is truly worth the 5 stars I have bestowed upon it.
~~~ What is Vonage? ~~~~
Vonage is a VoIP telephone service provider. However it uses different technology than the likes of BT or NTL to provide the telephone service. Not only that, it provides a different structure for call charges and line rental.
Before I go into that, maybe you are wondering what is VoIP? VoIP stands for the Voice over IP protocol. It is a method of carrying voice communications across the internet or other suitable networks. You may have heard this called IP telephony. Put simply, you can hold telephone conversations across the internet rather than a dedicated phone line like BT or NTL. It also means you can use your home broadband connection to provide internet and a telephone line rather then a separate line. Right lesson over.
When I first heard of it, it took me ages to get my head round how it works. But to use this service you don't really need to know how it works, but you do need certain equipment.
~~~ What Equipment Do I Need? ~~~
Well as the service is provided over an internet connection you need a broadband internet connection. This can be cable or ADSL. This allows you to surf and hold telephone calls simultaneously. This needs to be supplied by you as it is a pre-requisite to receiving the Vonage service.
Depending on whether you have an existing router with RJ45 network ports available then all you need is the Vonage device that connects to the router. On the Vonage website is a very useful quiz which takes you through some questions about your broadband connection and helps you determine which pieces of equipment you require.
You can also use a normal landline telephone that usually comes with an RJ11 connector. With my broadband setup I just need the D-Link device which connects to my broadband router using RJ45 connection and my telephone plugs into this device. The D-Link device allows you to connect 2 telephones to 1 telephone number.
This adapter converts the analogue phone signal from your phone to digital so it can be sent over broadband and into the Vonage network.
~~~ Call Plans ~~~
The service is offered with the following Call Plans:
- V-Plan 1 for £7.99 per month (calls to UK & Ireland free)
- V-Plan 2 for £7.99 per month (calls to 15 countries free)
- V-Plan 3 for £9.99 per month (calls to 25 countries free)
- V-Plan 4 for £14.99 per month (calls to 35 countries free)
- V-Plan 5 for £18.99 per month (call to 45 countries free)
Small Business Plans
- V-Plan 4 for £14.99 per month (includes calls to 35 countries)
- V-Plan 5 for £18.99 per month (includes calls to 45 countries)
The beauty of Vonage is that you only pay "Line Rental" with no additional charges for landlines to any of the countries included in your plan. When I left BT and NTL my Line rental was in the region of £10 and that did not include any free calls. So for £7.99 you get free calls to UK & Ireland with no extra charge any time of day. I did find with the NTL and BT free calls at the weekend that it didn't include Bank Holidays so this service is much more flexible.
It should be noted that you will be charged for Local Rate (0845) and National Rate (0870) and mobile calls. But if you use www.saynotto0870.com you can usually find a landline number from the listings. For calls to mobile, I usually use my mobile as it comes with a set number of minutes that I can use between landlines and mobiles. Or if you are really tight, get them to ring you - lol.
I'm on V-Plan 2 as my sister lives in the US and can make free calls to her.
As of May-2008, Vonage did introduce a fair usage policy which annoyed me a bit. But upon investigate the limits are fair. You get to make around 33 hours of calls per month with a 2 hour limit on any one call. I find that this is more than adequate for what I use.
~~~ Signing Up ~~~
Signing up is very easy. You just have to select a call plan and then it takes you to selecting an area dialling code. With this service you are not tied to a specific area code and you can pretty much choose any code you want. If you want 0207 or 0208, choose London, if you want Aberdeen, you can have 01224.
Then you are taken to a page to select the devices you need and you can choose from:
1) D-Link VTA device which is free
2) Vonage V-portal, which includes a router for £9.99
3) the VTA and modem bundle in case you only have a USB modem for £9.99
4) the VTA and Handset bundle for £19.99
You are then taken to a secure page where you enter your Name and User details including your Broadband provider. One thing you are asked for is address details for the emergency services. If you have a power cut then you will lose Vonage telephone services so you cannot make any calls, not even emergency calls. For the majority of people with mobiles this should not be an issue, but be aware of this.
You finally enter your billing details and confirm the order. Hey presto await for your devices to arrive.
~~~ Setting Up ~~~
Set up was really easy but I do consider myself technically adept. As mentioned I purchased (for free) the D-Link VTA device which connects the telephone to my broadband router.
You connect the VTA device to an Ethernet (RJ45) port on your router and connect the device to power. The device boots up and synchronizes with the Vonage service and shows a blinking power light while it does this. Once the light is solid connection to Vonage has been made and you can connect the telephone to the phone port using a standard (RJ11) connector. If you can hear a dial tone you're done and can start making calls.
I did this just over a year ago and was thinking it's too easy. But it was really like that. I imagine the VTA device comes pre-configured with the number you have chosen when you signed up.
~~~ Features ~~~~
You get the following features with any of the plans for free:
- Call Waiting
- Caller Display
- Call Diversion
- Voicemail messages are emailed to your account in WAV form so you can hear messages over the internet - quite cool and funny too
- Call Transfer
- 3-way calling
- Call hunt (if you have more than 1 Vonage line)
This is not a comprehensive list so check out http://www.vonage.co.uk/help.php?category=2&nav=2 for a full list.
~~~ Anything Else? ~~~~
Yes, when I signed up, I was tied into a 24-month contract, but checking just now, there is no contract tie-in. I would recommend that you double check this.
Customer Service is 0800-0000, 7 days a week
Online Account Management means you can change settings of your service anytime, which includes checking voicemail and call activity
Call charges for 084/087 and Premium rate numbers are additional to the line rental. Check the charges if you do use.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
I have been using the Vonage service for over a year and have no complaints. The service has always been available when I have needed it and I have certainly made use of it - One month I made 11 hours of calls - it's good to talk.
I have noticed on occasion where the phone call has dropped but it is easy to ring back and resume the conversation. I have noticed that the signal can degrade (which means the person you are speaking to can't hear you or you get a crackly line) if you move too far away from the adapter or there are many brick walls between you and the device.
I've had to contact the Customer Services only on 1 occasion and that was to query some call charges to Belgium which was not in my plan. But Vonage reimbursed me for the 7p (yes 7p, it all counts) and made sure I was on the correct plan.
The best thing about this service is that I don't have to worry about paying call charges. I can just pick up the phone and dial any landline or international country in my plan knowing that it is all covered in a single fee. Sure, some months I make few calls, but some months I make a lot of calls. If I am at home, I will tend to use the landline more than the mobile as it means I can preserve the minutes on my mobile call plan too.
For more information, please visit www.vonage.co.uk
Thank you for reading. This review may be posted on other sites.
© jupiter28 2008