Mini-Review of Vonage

After a friend told me about Vonage (hi James), and it made sense to try it out... I was paying Bell Canada an average of about $100/month, and Vonage offers unlimited in-province calling for $34.95/month, something you can't get at all from Bell anymore. These are all Canadian prices (me being in Canada, eh?).

Staples has a special on a Linksys PAP2 VoIP phone adapter, which couldn't be easier to use: You plug one wire into your Ethernet router, and another into a telephone. Give Vonage the Mac address of the adapter and that's it, you're online.

There are some very cool things about this:

  • You can take your home phone anywhere with you. Travelling? Bring the adapter and plug it wherever you go, as long as you can find an Ethernet jack and a network that doesn't require you to do anything funny to get online.
  • Vonage includes all the services Bell makes you pay extra for, like caller ID, voicemail, etc. That's one of the main reasons it's cheaper.
  • You keep your phone number when you move.
  • They'll email you your voicemail!

That said, there are some drawbacks:

  • You can't get DSL without paying for a phone line. At least, that's how it is here. This means my phone bill is the Vonage rate plus $29 for a Bell phone line. Still cheaper...
  • You don't have a phone when the power goes out.
  • You don't have a phone when your Internet goes out. And if this is your only phone, how are you going to call your ISP?
  • With the simple adapter I have, there's no quality of service guarantee. If I'm downloading files while I'm on the phone, voice quality becomes choppy. This sucks. There's a router version of the adapter that automatically starves your network for bandwidth to guarantee voice quality; I'd seriously recommend getting that. (The adapter I have was $10 after the mail-in rebate; maybe that's why).

The two configurations that make sense:

  • You have DSL. You continue to pay for a phone line, and you add Vonage as a second line. Forward your basic bell line to the Vonage line so you get voicemail and whatnot.
  • You have Internet that doesn't come through your phone line. Get a cell phone and use that as the emergency backup, cancel your phone line, and go with Vonage.

The part of it that I find coolest is that this little VoIP box, that most people will see just as some simple adapter, is doing all the work of talking to the Vonage servers, DHCP, audio digitization and compression/decompression, managing the local phone lines (detecting when it's picked up, generating the ring signal)... I'm impressed. They've made VoIP dead simple.

Disclaimer: I've had the service for a week now; if my opinion of it changes I'll update this.