In September I signed up for Vonage, a VoIP (Voice-over-IP) service that using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) that allows you to connect using the net to the analog POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) quite economically.
I've had for a while a Cisco VoIP phone that is connected to the PCH (Packet Clearing House) experimental INOC-DBA Phone Hotline. This is a private telephone network for the internet that directly connects to internet operators and sysadmins at various ISPs and hosting sites, allowing them to communicate and share problems. I've been very pleased with the quality of the connections -- if anything, better then POTS in most cases.
Given the quality of the Cisco VoIP phone, I thought it worth investigating to see if I could justify a VoIP system for Alacrity and closely related companies like Skotos, but discovered that hosting our own Cisco-based system would probably be too expensive. Then I heard about Vonage.
Vonage offers unlimited local and regional calling and 500 minutes of US/Canada calling for $24.99 a month -- however, in addition to this I get complete "class 5" telephone services, which includes voice mail (which can be emailed to you), call forwarding, caller ID, etc. -- with my local service SBC/PacBell I was paying over $44 a month just for services, not any calling charges. Just the voice mail forwarding to my email is almost worth the price that I'm paying for the line.
When I initially investigated I was concerned what would happen if my net connection was down, and was pleased to find that they have a feature such that if the net connection was down the phone would forward to another line. This could be an analog land line or to a cell phone.
My other reservation was that Vonage would not work with my existing Cisco VoIP phone -- instead they send you a dedicated Cisco box that you then attach your normal analog POTS phone to. I can understand why they do this -- having only one kind of hardware to deal with makes tech support easier, and allowing people to use their existing POTS phones would make it easier for unsophisticated customers.
I decided to experiment by transfering one of my business lines -- I have moved my office in Berkeley to a home office in Kensington, and I've been paying $0.01 a minute to transfer calls as SBC/PacBell would not let me move the phone line here. So I was paying for 2 lines, one in Berkeley and one in Kensington plus $0.01 minute, so obviously switching to Vonage would save me money.
I had the Vonage working in a couple of days -- I just have it down in my machine room connected to my ethernet switch, and from there connected to my regular building analog phone wires. It worked great, but my pre-existing number was not working with it yet, just a temporary number from Vonage. Several months later the number was finally transferred -- not Vonage's fault, but SBC/PacBell's, who made it very difficult to transfer.
Now that it is all installed I'm finding it quite convenient. Also, I'm finding has some long-term advantages. If I go for an extended trip, and if I have a net connection, I can just bring the small Cisco box and a phone with me and I can call and answer my own phone line wherever I may be. I can even go overseas and my US telephone number can still work. While I'm disconnected, Vonage will forward my calls to my cell phone.
I'm going to keep trying it for a few more months, and it continues to have the quality that I need, I will probably move all but one emergency unlisted analog phone line to Vonage. That is all my lines - fax, home, business, etc. This will give me the ultimate in portability.
They also now have for existing customers a "soft" VoIP client that works on your computer or laptop. I may try that soon as well.
If you are interested in trying out Vonage, they have a special offer where if I refer you they'll give us both 1 free month of service. I have to send you an email to trigger it, so if you are interested send me an email.