Monday, April 12, 2004

Vonage Update

I wrote earlier about a plan to convert my phone service to an internet-based service, Vonage. My results are good.

You sign up and they give you a phone number, or you keep your old one through LNP. They send you a box. You connect the box in between your computer(s) and the cable modem, and you plug regular phones into the box. If you're good with wires and can plug your whole house wiring into the box, nobody would ever know the difference. It works exactly like a normal phone. I've made and received dozens of calls, and only one was horribly botched. You do, however, have to 11-digit dial for local calls. Which really isn't that much of a stretch, since the 224/847 area code here in Chicago has to do it, and doesn't VA's 571/703 have to as well? [insert area code nostalgia here]

  • Biggest problem is potential reliability. There are a number of added steps and vendors here. We'll call it the Amtrak problem. Except for a few lines on the East coast, Amtrak doesn't own any actual traintracks. They own trains and buy time on other lines with names like the Baltimore & Ohio and Chicago Western. But when the tracks heat up and warp and a passenger train crashes, whose name is on TV? Amtrak. Vonage has no control over my ISP, and so for any ISP issues they are forced to shrug their sholders. But it's their dialtone I'm looking for.
  • 911- Because it's internet based, you can literally plug this box into the internet anywhere in the world and have your home phone number live. So you have to register your home address with their servers, and when you dial 911 your call goes the same place (or a similar place) as a cellular 911 (or *999) call goes. Which isn't where your landline 911 call goes.
  • Thanks to the FCC, this is not "telephone" service, it is Digital Voice service. Besides the above, I can't really think of the implications of that yet. Less taxes, so far.

    For those two reasons, I'm keeping my landline phone at a very basic level. I believe that's $15 a month. (Thank you, regulation.) Between Comcast, Vonage, and/or ComEd failures, I wouldn't be comfortable without a regular landline. Maybe not, since I have a cell phone too. We'll see. The $40 for two lines is still cheaper than the $60 for one I was paying SBC/Ameritech.

    Neat stuff. It's got all the bells and whistles phone service should have, plus a couple extras that are the future of telephony. One example is called SimulRing. Caller dials your number, and it rings your phone and another phone of your choosing. Answer whichever one is convenient. It doesn't work too well yet as it introduces a wicked delay (250-500 ms?) on the non-primary phone. If that's a cell phone there's even more delay. But in a pinch, it certainly works. You can check your voice mail from the web. You can have "phantom" numbers, in any area code they have coverage. So if you move to Chattenooga and the whole family stays in Albuquerque, you get a local Tennessee number and a phantom Albuquerque number. Family dials a local call and gets you in Tennessee.

    This is slightly behind the bleeding edge of telephony, people have been using the internet for phone calls for a little while now. But it's the first thing that's been ready for prime time. Theoretically, the phone companies would start providing everyone with a fast internet connection (not a kludge like DSL) and your telephone and internet come on the same line. Make it fast enough (fiber) and your cable TV could come on it too. That's a long way off however. Phone and internet combined is certainly a reality for business users, so home is not *too* far off.

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