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Cut 50% or More Off Your Home Phone Bill

I always like to be on the "bleeding edge" of technology and last month I embraced one of the newest. It is called voice over IP (VoIP for short). Previously my monthly phone bill was $45-50. Last month I joined about 120,000 others folks around the country and switched my phone service to Vonage. My phone bill has dropped to $35 a month with no hidden charges or, best yet, not a penny in those pesky taxes that all of you pay in "hidden" phone charges every month.

To the outside world, Vonage is a voice-over-IP carrier providing inexpensive service to consumers who don't care about the underlying technology. It's also a company that scares the telephone companies that fear it cares even less about the long-established rules of the game--like being an active contributor to universal service.

What do I get for $35 a month?

  • Unlimited Free long distance This applies to anywhere within the US and Canada.
  • Free voicemail. This is nice because you can check Vonage voicemail through your phone or from the internet via windows media player, etc. The Vonage voicemail can be configured from the web to pick up after so many calls or after being forwarded to another number with no answer. Vonage does not limit the number of messages that you can keep in your mailbox and they can all be managed online. Vonage will also optionally email you when you have a new voicemail. You can customize Vonage with greetings and configure Vonage so that if you don't like call waiting, a person calling your Vonage line gets a message stating you are on the phone so please leave a message and you will get back to them.
  • Free call forwarding. This can be configured from the Vonage webpage and is better than most because you have the option of forwarding Vonage calls immediately or after so many seconds. The fact that there is no long distance charges means you can forward Vonage to any phone number in the United States or Canada for free. You are still able to have the Vonage voicemail be the default voicemail if the forwarded number does not pick up in case you want to keep all your voicemails in the same system.
  • Free repeat dialing. This is sometimes known as "demon dialing." You dial 5 with Vonage when you get a busy signal and then Vonage keeps trying to contact the person and rings the phone when the line is no longer busy.
  • Free call transfer. You can transfer your current Vonage call to anywhere or anyone within the U.S. and Canada. Let's say you are on the Vonage phone with someone and you need to hit the road. Just transfer the Vonage call to your cell phone and keep on going. Don't stop there. Think of the possibilities. Let's say you live in Boston and your brother lives in Seattle and your mom lives in Dallas. Call your brother using Vonage and talk to him for a few minutes and then say "Why don't you talk to mom". All you need to do is transfer him to your mom using your Vonage phone line to Dallas and hang up. Those two will be talking using Vonage absolutely free of charge for everyone
  • Free caller ID. Vonage currently supports caller-ID assuming your phone has it built-in. This works fine but does not support caller-ID with name at this point, with Vonage just the number will show up.
  • Free caller ID block. Vonage allows you to use the star 67 in order for your phone number not to show up on other persons caller-ID display.
  • Free call return. You can dial star 69 with Vonage and a computer voice will tell you the last person that called and ask if you would like to return the call. This is voice activated so you just need to say YES or NO into the Vonage phone line.
  • Any area code of your choice. You can have multiple Vonage virtual phone numbers in different cities. If you live in Boston and want to make it local for your family member to call you in Atlanta, then you can get a Vonage Virtual phone number that is local to Atlanta. It does cost 4.99 a month extra for each Vonage phone number outside of the first one you choose.
  • Instant Online Call Records. In case you want to see who called your Vonage line and didn't leave a voicemail or who you or a family member has called in a month, it is all accessible in real-time from the Vonage web site known as Vonage Dashboard. Vonage has a dashboard view that shows all activity of incoming and outgoing Vonage calls. You can do advanced searches in case you want to find out who called on a certain date or how many Vonage phone calls were made to a certain phone number.
  • Take Vonage Anywhere in the world. You can travel anywhere that has broadband connectivity and hook up your Vonage phone and still call the U.S. and Canada for free. The Internet connection still goes to the Vonage server so as far as Vonage is concerned, you are calling from the U.S.

Vonage has unlimited local and regional calling with 500 free US long distance minutes and free call waiting. Vonage also has free international calls to Canada and live to six cents a minute to most all other countries. For another $10 per month ($35 total) I could have UNLIMITED free long distance. If I hardly ever used the phone I could decrease my monthly bill to $15 and get 500 anytime minutes to US and Canada. This has got to be one of the best deals around anywhere. And who do we have to thank? The Internet of course, that allows companies to transfer.

What Are Vonage Negatives?

  • Vonage is dependent on your Broadband power. You are completely dependent on having power at your house and no Internet broadband outages. The Vonage Network Unavailability forwarding works greats if you have a cell phone or landline but it is probably not a good idea to have this service without at least a cell phone in case of emergencies. Again, it really depends on the quality of your DSL or cable broadband internet connection, because Vonage is totally reliant on it. If your Internet access is good, then Vonage will be good also.
  • Vonage does not have numbers for all cities. Although Vonage is constantly adding local numbers to new cities, they may not have one for your city. You can still get the Vonage service if you don't mind having a phone number outside of your local calling area. You might think about getting a number that is a local call to a far away friend.
  • Vonage Caller-ID Issues. The Vonage caller-ID does not show the name of the person calling, however it does show the number. I am hoping that Vonage will correct this soon.
  • Only one Vonage phone Connector. The Vonage Cisco ATA only comes with one functional phone connector. This means you will have to find a way to hook all your Vonage phones up to one jack. This was no issue for me because I have a Vtech cordless phone system which just requires one analog connection while the other phones just plug into individuals cradles only for power. The one base transmits to all phones on the system. Most systems like this support at least 4 phones per one base. Another way to avoid this with Vonage is by going to your telephone Network Interface Box outside your house and make sure you disconnect the two (or four) wires and then plugging the Vonage Cisco ATA directly into one of your analog outlets so that they are all live in your house. Cisco does not recommend this however many people are doing it and the principle is sound. My best advice would be to call an electrician and seek their advice. I have never tried this myself so I cannot vouch for it.

Special Precautions

You will need to have a broadband Internet connection to take advantage of this service. If you don't have one already, the savings that you get on Vonage will probably more than pay for the Internet. Once you sign up Vonage will send you a brand new Motorola cable modem that needs to be connected to your cable modem.

There is NO SOFTWARE to install. The installation could not be more brain-dead simple. Just plug it in and wait five minutes and you are up and running. There are, however, TWO issues that I had to figure out that will help you enormously.

The first is that although you will be able to use Vonage immediately it takes up to three weeks for the phone company to transfer your number to Vonage. So be sure and get the transfer process underway immediately. Do not delay. Once your number is transferred to Vonage you can disconnect from your local phone company and your savings start immediately.

The second issue is that you will have to physically disconnect your phone service. This is not that difficult, but you will have to find where the wires come into your home. In most cases, as in mine, there is a small box outside the house. You just open that box and pull the little cables (RJ-11) off their connections. You will need to do this if you want the Vonage service to be available to all the phones in your house.

Clay Shirkey February 26, 2004

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