Tag Archive: Vonage

Oct 19

Vonage: Not For Me, But Still A Service To Consider

Well, after using Vonage for almost two months, we decided to cancel our Vonage service and remain with Bell South. Unfortunatly our situation is a bit different from many others, so your experience could be quite different. So read on to see why we canceled and why I still recommend Vonage as an excellent phone service alternative. That may sound like a contratiction, but it’s not…

There was no one major reason for our cancelling Vonage. Our decision came from a number of smaller issues that, after reviewing “the big picture”, caused us to decide that despite the added cost of Bell South phone service, its reliability and quality outweighed the issues we were having with Vonage. Here are the issues we have been dealing with:

1. NO LOCAL NUMBER ISSUE
The first issue we had was the lack of a local number within our local calling area. Vonage did provide numbers within our area code, but they exist outside our local calling area. Not having a local number presented the following issues:

-11 Digit Dialing
Local callers must dial 11 digits when dialing our Vonage number. I am originally from the Chicago area which has had “overlay” area codes for several years requiring dialing 11 digits. It was a no-brainer because everyone had to do it. Call New Mexico: 11 digits. Call across the street: 11 digits. Simple.

In Anderson, SC however, the norm is currently 7 digits, so it was confusing and inconvenient when giving out our number and expecting people to reach us the first time. Of course it’s not rocket science, but was a minor hassle.

-In-State Toll Charges
Because the Vonage number resides outside our local calling area, anyone within our local area who dials our number got hit with an in-state toll charge. Again, not a huge deal, but I personally don’t like the idea of pushing off these added costs to the caller when they would otherwise be covered under my phone plan had we had a local number.

-No Phonebook Listing
This issue wasn’t apparant at first. It turns out that because the Vonage phone number is “owned” by Vonage and is “leased” to Vonage customers, there is really no easy way to get a new Vonage phone number listed in the local phonebook. Some may find this a blessing as it may reduce telemarketing callers, but we found this to be an issue. We moved to a “small-town” community that relies on these types of resources. Again, not a huge issue. Note that if you “ported” or “transferred” your number, this should be a non-issue. This only affects “new” Vonage numbers. Because our number could not be transferred due to lack of local number availability, we had to go with a new number.

-CALLERID NOT “ACCURATE”
Again, this seems to be an issue similar to the phonebook issue. Our CallerID information displays as “Unknown Number” and then our Vonage phone number on recipients’ CallerID boxes. I find this pretty lame. Given current technology, Vonage customers SHOULD be able to have their Account Name displayed on the CallerID regardless if the number was “new” or “transferred”. While I do understand the reasons behind it, the reasons are really more political and administrative than technical. Obviously, this is not Vonage’s fault as such, but it’s still an annoyance.

-911 REGISTRATION A PROBLEM
According to Vonage’s response to my 911 registration request, our address “failed [their] 911 Address Matching Test.” so our 911 registration was declined. Apparantly, we live in a county area that currently does not exist in the 911 system. I will definitely persue this issue because it could also affect our Bell South line. Again, this is not Vonage’s fault, but given current technology, this should be transparant to the user.

Looking at these specific issues, you could conclude that they are not necessarily “show-stopper” issues, and you would be correct. What concerns me is that while I’m very tech-savvy, “Joe Sixpack” would certainly have a tougher time dealing with and understanding these issues.

2. CALL QUALITY ISSUE
Simply put, my wife and I were disappointed with Vonage’s call quality. Overall, it’s pretty good, but depending on the call, there were often noticable delays, occasional “choppy” voice, and occasional dropped connections. Because I had my Phone Adapter located behind my router for security reasons, I couldn’t take advantage of QoS, so calls were more often than not affected during heavy Internet activity. Despite having 3000/256 Cable Modem service, the call quality was never on par with that of Bell South. I did not try lowering the bitrate on the Dashboard, and maybe that would have improved things, but I also didn’t want to sacrifice voice quality.

The good news (and I’m not being cynical here) is that if you are used to and satisfied with Cellphone quality service such as occasional voice delay, intermittent choppy voice, occasional dropouts, and the occasional lack of service, then you will be right at home with Vonage. I seriously believe that if you are happy with cellphone quality, then you will be happy with Vonage. However, if you prefer POTS quality, then you may be disappointed. Again, your milage may vary depending on your particular setup.

3. LINE RELIABILITY ISSUE
OK, so the fact that three hurricanes recently swept through the Southeast is truely not a normal occurrance, but unfortunatly, our cable went out twice during that two week period due to weather-related issues rendering Vonage phone service useless. Our Bell South line remaind “on” during the outage. My Cable Modem, Router, and Phone Adapter were connected to an Uninterruptable Power Supply (which was an added cost), so THAT portion of the system stayed “on”, but because no Internet connection was available, the Vonage phone service was unavailable. To be fair, in this case, the problem was NOT with Vonage, but our Cable provider.

CONCLUSION
OK, all that said, please understand that MOST of our issues have to do with our specific proximity and the fact that no local number was available. My original intent for Vonage was to save some money over our Bell South bill. Obviously, from a money-savings perspective, Vonage wins hands-down being certainly more cost-effective. That said, after dumping our second business line and re-working our long distance package, we are currently paying just about $50.00 per month with Bell South. Yes, it’s more costly than Vonage, but it’s still a HUGE savings over what we were paying previously. For us the added cost and stability of Bell South’s service outweighs the issues we have been having with Vonage.

Another thing to understand is that unlike the POTS line that relies on its own internal managed system, Vonage relies on the integrity of other interconnected, unregulated systems. Overall, this may not be a big issue, but it is a real consideration.

I also want to mention that when we lived in Chicago, we had Cable TV, Internet, and Phone service provided by Comcast Cable (formerly AT&T Broadband.) Their phone service was really not much different from Vonage in that it was VoIP, but all technical details (specifically QoS) were handled by Comcast. Their service was nothing short of stellar.

In conclusion, I have to say that the Vonage service is an excellent phone service alternative. With inexpensive features like a Web-based user-controllable Dashboard, almost real time detailed billing, a portable phone adapter, and the availability of virtual numbers, Vonage certainly provides a lot for the money. If you are willing to deal with some minor issues, then Vonage is really a great deal and I highly recommend it. For some, the cost savings alone is well worth it. To us, however, Vonage did not offer the same reliability, quality, and convenience that we have come to expect from POTS phone services like Comcast Phone or Bell South have provided us.

By all means, give Vonage a try. We gave it a chance, and for us, it wasn’t the right solution, but it may well be for you.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-not-for-me-but-still-a-service-to-consider

Aug 27

Vonage Tip #7: Are Incoming calls free?

This is a very common question asked about the Vonage service. Read on for the details…

Yes.

Well, that’s really all you need to know.

OK, I’ll expand on it just a bit…

First off, if you have an “Unlimited” calling plan, it’s all really a moot point because you won’t be “charged” for any of your calls, incoming or outgoing, other than what your plan costs.

That said, if you have any calling plan where you pay for the minutes used after the plan maximum, here is what you can expect:

Free Calls:
-All incoming calls TO your Vonage number are free
-Dialing an 800 number is free
-Calls made from one Vonage customer to another Vonage customer are free
-Calls made from your Vonage phone to check your voice mail

Calls charged against your calling plan:
-All calls FROM your Vonage number

Remember that you get detailed call history as part of the Vonage service, so use it to see just what you are being charged for!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-7-are-incoming-calls-free

Aug 27

Vonage Tip #6: How to make your Vonage connection house-wide

By design, the Vonage Phone adapter has two phone jacks with the “Line 1″ jack enabled. The “standard” way to connect your phone is to simply plug it into the jack on the Phone adapter. You are now using Vonage’s service, and couldn’t be happier, right. But what if you have more than one phone in your house? Read on for some information on how to connect all of your home phones…

One method is to add a “splitter” to the jack on the back of the Phone Adapter and plug in a second phone.

That’s fine, but it certainly won’t help if you have more phones or phones located in other rooms.

Another method is to plug your…

Wait a minute. First and foremost, before we go on, you need to know one very important thing: You should ONLY plug your VOnage (or any VoIP) Phone Adapter into one of your home’s phone jacks if, and only if you have disconnected the Local Phone Company’s line from your inside wiring! If you do not do this, you could damage your Phone adapter! OK, that said, let’s continue…

Another method is to disconnect the Local Phone Company’s line from your house and then plug your Vonage Phone Adapter into an open phone jack. Assuming your home phone wiring is done properly, your home phone wiring is wired in parallel. “Connecting a dial tone” to one jack should provide a dial tone to all jacks. So, if you disconnect the Local Phone Company’s dial tone from the wiring and connect your Vonage Phone Adapter, it will provide a dial tone “house-wide”.

I’m not going to go into all the specific details about how to do the Local Phone Compnay disconnection and the Vonage connection. Instead, I refer you to an excellent online resource at:

http://michigantelephone.mi.org/distribute.html

This “How to Distribute VoIP Throughout a Home” page details some telephone basics, how to disconenct your Local Phone Company’s line, how to prevent your Local Phone Company from re-connecting it, and some other fascinating and technical telephone-related information. It is truely a “must read” page!

Obviously, your individual situation will dictate how you connect the Vonage service. For example, if you live in s studio apartment, maybe a single phone connected to the Phone Adapter is sufficient. Maybe your setup requires a whole-house connection. Like so many things about Vonage, you have some flexibility to determine how to set things up for your situation.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-6-how-to-make-your-vonage-connection-house-wide

Aug 24

Vonage Tip #5: Flexible Call Forwarding

One feature I REALLY like is Vonage’s Call Forwarding feature. It is VERY tailorable, and can help you in many different situations. You can set up and configure Call Forwarding over the phone, but using Vonage’s Web Interface is very simple. Read on for some scenarios that Vonage Call Forwarding will handle. There are no doubt others, but these cover the basics…

1. Immediate Forward
Say you just want the call to be immediatly forwarded to another number. Simply enter the number to which you want to foward and then select “Instant” on the dropdown menu. When your Vonage number is dialed, it is immediatly forwarded to the number you enterd. From the caller’s perspective, they dial a number, it rings, and you pick it up–simple. From your perspective, the phone at the number to which the Vonage number is forwarded rings and you answer the call. This could be your cell phone, another phone line in the house, or a number in another state or country. Just be aware of the impact on minutes charged depending on to what number you are forwarding.

2. Delayed Forward
This is just like the Immediate Forwarding, except that the number to which you forwarded doesn’t ring until the time delay you set expires. Again, from the caller’s perspective, they dial the number, it rings, and you pick it up. From your perspective, the Vonage line rings for the number of seconds you define and after that time, the phone at number to which you forwarded rings. This gives you the opportunity to pick up the Vonage line before it forwards.

3. Concurrent Ringing
I found this to be cool. Again, it’s the same from the caller’s perspective as above, but from your perspective, the Vonage line rings AND the line to which you forwarded also rings at the same time. Say you set the forward number to be your cell phone. Every call the comes to your Vonage line will ring on your Vonage phones AND your cell phone at the same time. Either line can be answered. Depending on your various call plans or your circumstances, you can determine what line to pick up.

Important Notes:

First, be aware that the call to the number to which you forward is charged to your Vonage account as it would be if you called it. If it is a local call, then it will count against your local minutes. Likewise with Long Distance. If you have one of the unlimited plans, then it doesn’t matter. Also, if you are forwarding to a cell phone, then the cell phone’s minutes may also apply.

Second, be aware that VoiceMail also uses a form of call forwarding, so you must consider the forwarding delays of each. For example, if you set VoiceMail to pick up after 15 seconds and have Call Forwarding delayed to 20 seconds, the call will never get forwarded, but go immediatly to VoiceMail. One thing that “stung” me was when I had the line ringing to both my Vonage line and my cell phone. Vonage VoiceMail was set to answer after 30 seconds, but my cell phone’s voice mail picked up sooner than 30 seconds so the cell phone was answering the voicemail, so Vonage VoiceMail never had the chance to picked up.

If you really think about how it all works, it does make sense, and the fact that you can tailor it is VERY nice. It just takes a bit more thought to ensure that what you really want to happen happens.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-5-flexible-call-forwarding

Aug 24

Vonage Tip #4: Network Availability Number

Did you know that even if your broadband connection goes down, you can still receive calls on your Vonage service? Read on to find out how…

Like many VoIP providers, Vonage provides a “Network Availability Number” which is simply a secondary phone number of your choosing to which Vonage will forward all calls should it lose the connection to your Phone Adapter. Short of a system-wide failure at Vonage, you can rest in confidence that your calls will reach you regardless of the condition of your Internet connection.

To configure a “Network Availability Number”, just log onto your Vonage Web account and select the “Features” link at the top of the page. Next, look for the “Network Availability Number” section of the Features page and click on the “Configure” button. In the “Enter System Not Available Number” field, enter the phone number to which you want calls forwarded should your Internet connection be disrupted. For example, I entered by Cell Phone number. That way, if my Internet connection ever goes down, I’ll still receive any calls made to my Vonage number on my Call Phone.

Just another nice feature to give you some peace of mind.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-4-network-availability-number

Aug 24

Vonage Tip #3: Uh oh, the Powers out!

Unlike “standard” telephone service, Vonage requires that your Phone Adapter be powered and connected to an active broadband connection at all times. Read on to see what can you do to ensure uninterrupted service for those inevitable times when the power goes out…

Have you ever noticed that when the power goes out, you can still pick up the phone and make a call? That’s because standard phone lines are powered by their own electrical systems that are controlled and maintained by the Phone Company. This is a low voltage electrical connection that is separate from your home electrical wiring and service. But what about Vonage? Well, to maintain uninterrupted phone service, you must maintain power to all of your “Vonage-related” equipment such as the Phone Adapter, Routers (if any), and your Cable/DSL modem.

By simply connecting these devices to an inexpensive UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) you can ensure that, at least for a while, you will have continued phone service. Typically, UPS’s are designed to provide uninterrupted backup power for PC’s and related equipment. How much power it provides and how long it will last depends on several factors including the power rating of the UPS and the actual load you are putting on the UPS (the number and types of equipment connected.)

UPS manuafacturers typically rate their UPS devices with “VA” or “Volt-Amps” numbers, for example 350VA, 500VA, etc. This number is calculated based on voltage and amps (or watts.) If your device has an amps rating, multiply the number of amps by 120 (volts.) If the device has a watts rating, multiply the number of watts by by 1.82. So, for example, if one device uses 2 amps (2 x 120 = 240) and another user 100 watts (100 x 1.82 = 182) then the total volt-amps needed would be 422. Basically, you add up the total power requirements for all devices and then purchase a UPS that is rated at least at the number you calculated.

The good news is that home networking devices like Cable Modems, Routers, and the Vonage Phone Adapter have rather low power requriements, so if you were to purchase a UPS typically sized to accommodate a PC and a Monitor, and use it just for your networking devices, you should have lots of extended usage time. Your best bet is to take the time to add up the power requirements for everything for which you want battery backup and then reference the UPS packaging or manufacturer’s web site to determine your best options. Look for “sizing” information. My recommendation is to connect as few devices as you can. This will enable you to either purchase a smaller UPS or it will give you much longer backup power when the power goes out.

Like so many “cutting edge” gadgets and services, Vonage VoIP requires a bit more “user participation” in some areas to make it work best. Some may view it as a burden, but it really just provides more choice for the user. Obviously, if you don’t care if you have a phone connection if the power goes out, then you can save some money. But if it’s important to you, then you need to take the time to provide the best backup methods.

Finally, to what extent you provide backup power again is purely your choice. Some people have provided solar backup power. Some use generators, and others use simple, inexpensive UPS’s.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-3-uh-oh-the-powers-out

Aug 24

Vonage Tip #2: Get your ReplayTV to connect over Vonage!

One major concern in selecting Vonage is its compatibility with “dial-up” devices such as my ReplayTV boxes. If you have a ReplayTV box that dials out over the phone line, read on to learn how to get a reliable connection over Vonage every time…

When I initially tried to connect my ReplayTV box over a Vonage line, the connection consistently failed. The explanation is that Vonage isn’t necessarily capable of transmitting all of the signals required in a high-speed modem connection. So, the solution is to lower the modem’s connect speed do a speed that Vonage can handle. The 2xxx series boxes (and I believe the 3xxx series) have a default and maximum connect speed of 33.6K. On the 5xxx boxes, it’s 56K (I don’t know about the 4xxx boxes.) Unfortunatly, these speeds tend to be too high for Vonage to handle. By throttling the connection down to 19.2K, I am able to successfully connect every time. Your experience may vary, so trying different speeds may produce different results for you.

Yes, it does take longer to make the nightly call but the compatibility with Vonage is definitely worth it. Just be aware that because the session is slower, (it seems to now take around 20 minutes or so) if you only have Vonage’s 500 minute plan, ALL minutes will be eaten up within 25 days! So you will HAVE to go with another plan that provides unlimited minutes to your dialup number.

How to change the ReplayTV’s Modem speed settings:

Press the “Menu” button on the remote and select “Setup” then “Network and Input Settings”. Go through the modem setup again and when you get to the dialing prefixes screen, press the “Zones” button on the remote. This brings up several other user-definable options, one of which lets you manually set the modem speed. Lower the speed so a slower setting and try connecting. If that works, great! If not, continue lowering the setting until you get a consistent connection. Again, for me, 19.2K is solid and reliable over Vonage.

As a side note, while it may seem obvious, don’t overlook the fact that the 4xxx and 5xxx boxes have Ethernet connectivity, so if you have a 4xxx or 5xxx series box, don’t even mess with the dial-up connection if you are using Vonage–just use the Ethernet connection!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-2-get-your-replaytv-to-connect-over-vonage

Aug 24

Vonage Tip #1: How to access the ATAs Web setup

If your ATA is behind a router (which most people do) you will not be able to connect to your (Motorola’s) Web Settings interface because its IP address exists outside of the typical range of “home” LAN IP ranges. Read on to see how simple it is to access it…

Simply connect an ethernet cable from the NIC on any PC or laptop directly “PC port” on the ATA box. Open a Web browser and in 192.168.102.1

You should now be able to connect!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/vonage-tips/vonage-tip-1-how-to-access-the-atas-web-setup