Review| Voice over Internet protocol

Review: Internet-based phone services save cash

Years ago communities were served by only one phone provider. There was simply no alternative.

Today the market is flooded with choices, which have dramatically lowered the price of phone service while adding many more features. One such choice is VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) that uses your existing cable broadband Ethernet Internet connection in place of a phone line. The advantage of VOIP is that you already have a link to the outside world, so shopping for service plans becomes the only additional cost. The key is to compare the offers.

Things to consider are price, calling areas that are included, features such as message waiting, caller ID, voice mail and the reliability of the company. Some of the better-known providers are Brighthouse

(mybrighthouse.com), Time Warner (www.buytimewarner.com), Vonage (www.vonage.com) and Knology (www.knology.com). An interesting point is that Vonage has been hit by several patent infringement lawsuits brought by some of its competitors, but so far seems to have satisfactorily resolved these issues and remains very much a player in this competitive field.

How does VOIP work? The company you select will either install or provide you with a modem, a device that converts the digital signal to work with the existing telephones in your home network. You may also request your old phone number be transferred to this service.

The modem, the size of a paperback book, simply connects to your existing router, which in turn is connected to any telephone jack in your home. Now you have connectivity between the Internet and the phones in your home network. Your computer does not need to be on or plugged in for this to work. Pick up any phone in your home network and start talking. You can even take the modem with you when you travel, providing you have access to a broadband Ethernet Internet connection. This permits you to still receive and make all your calls from your home number wherever you are.

The downside to VOIP is that you are dependent on a good broadband Ethernet connection. Faster speeds mean better voice quality. If the power goes out, so does the phone; however, this is easily remedied by adding a low-cost battery backup system, better known as a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). Heavy Internet network system usage can cause busy signals or dropped calls. Also, many fax machines and digital video recorders have difficulty communicating with VOIP service.

There are many benefits to VOIP, such as lower costs with a greatly expanded calling area. Vonage, for example, treats all of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom as a local call. It also provides local access numbers in Canada, France, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States that allow free calls to be made to customers from these countries. Furthermore, you may check your messages not only by dialing into a mailbox, but also by going online.

Business plans are often available, too, but you would be well advised not to switch all your lines to VOIP. That way you have a backup in case either service has a major outage. I have benefited from significant cost savings over landline service. Generally, I am very satisfied.

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer who may be contacted at

bskidmore@mac.com.

Review: Internet-based phone services save cash 04/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 4:30am]

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