Last updated: 2005.03.10

Vonage VOIP Phone Service Review

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Background

I am a cellphone user. I do not use my land line at home at all. The only reason that I still have a land line is that I need it to open my front door, because of our building security system. I was tempted to route that to my cellphone also, but decided not to do that.

Land Lines are Expensive

Problem with having a land line in the United States at this point is that they are expensive. I used to use our local phone company, and by the time they add in all the required options, my monthly bill is close to $40. Now I use my cable company RCN to provide my phone service, and again, the minimum service turns out to be closed to $40 again.

Vonage is Cheap

Now comes Vonage. Their cheapest plan is only $14.99 a month. Seems like that's the cheapest way to keep a "land" line. They also have a web interface for controlling all the extra features. Always good to have a web interface!

Researching Vonage

After some research, I learn that if you get someone to refer you to Vonage, both the referrer and the referee gets some sort of a credit. Since they have a signup fee (which is not obvious on their website), that will offset it somewhat. So I asked around and got a referral from someone in the neigborhood.

Unlisted Numbers?

I need to research two additional things. First, I want to find out if my number will be listed in any directory. I emailed them and got an unclear response after two days. I called them and they told me that by default my number will not be listed. I can ask for it to be listed, but they cannot explain where will it be listed. Since I wanted unlisted number anyway, that is not a problem.

Fax Line?

Secondly on their site they heavily prompt the addition for a fax line for $10. I want to know if the reason that the fax line is cheaper is because the line is filtered for fax only, and their voice line is filtered to exclude fax use. I talked to their customer service and they cannot answer that question.

Poor Customer Service

Basically my experience with their customer service is very negative. I would normally have given up on Vonage. However since this is a service that I actually do not need, I decided to go ahead.

Referral to Save Money

I sign up for service on their website, using the referral. The referral gets me the second month free. Since I am signing up for the cheapest service, it does not quite offset the signup fee. Below is my invoice. Note all the extra charges, including shipping:

           ******************************************************************
           Item Quantity Unit Subtotal
           *******************************************************************
           Motorola Device 1 $0.00 $0.00
           Phone Number 1 $0.00 $0.00
           Activation Fee 1 $29.99 $29.99
           *Residential Basic 500 1 $14.99 $14.99
           -----------------------------------
           
           Federal Excise Tax: $1.35
           Regulatory Recovery Fee:$1.50
           Shipping: $9.95
           Total: $57.78

I processed to do the signup.

Equipment

The equipment arrived very quickly via UPS. Because I have a serious home network, I need to install the "adaptor" into the network with a lot of extra configuration. If you don't mind letting the Vonage adaptor sit in front of all your networking equipment, it becomes much easier. But I cannot do that. (See this section for a detail description). After the network setup, the voice adaptor booted up and started working. Impressive ! Note: read the instructions. The adaptor will go thought a boot up sequence which takes some time. Watch the blinking light on the unit.

Keeping My Existing Number

I do not want to go through the hazzle of getting a new number and doing a phone number change. So I also started the process to transfer my existing number over to Vonage. How this work is that they give me a temporary number so that the Vonage line will work right out of the box. They claim the transfer process will take a minimum of 15 to 20 business days. I need to fax in a authorization form, plus a copy of a less then 1 month old (RCN) phone bill showing that I indeed "own"that number. I faxed the form in on Thursday, and got an email from they saying the received it on Saturday.

Unfortunately, the actual transfer took four months. I emailed Vonage after the recommended 20 business days and they said they will look into it. Then they told me RCN lost the request and they have to initiate the transfer again. It took a totel of 4 months to get it transfered.

Vonage Web Site

One of the benefits of Vonage is that you can do everything via the web. They have a almost real time activity log -- I see honecalls I made within minutes from making them. That's pretty cool. One bad thing however, is that I seems to have intermitten DNS problem in getting to the website. Do you think my current provider RCN is doing that deliberately !?

Networking

This is the part that they do not tell you about on their website. The digital phone adaptor, DPA, requires four UDP port ranges to operate. If you have a home network and a firewall/router, chances are you There are three ways to network the equipment:

  1. The simplest way is to put the DPA between your cable modem and your PC.
  2. The second simplest way is to put the DPA betwen your cable modem and your home network router
  3. The hardest and the most useful way is to put the DPA on your home network as another device.

For option 3, this is what I did:

  1. I plugged my laptop into the "PC" LAN port. This is important. The DPA has two LAN ports, one outside and one inside. The internal/PC LAN port will response to a fixed IP address (192.168.102.1) and provide a web based configuration.
  2. I configure my laptop's network settings to match that IP subnet.
  3. Using it's web interface, I assigned the DPA a fixed IP address in my home network address range.
  4. I then added the required port forwarding on my firewall to allow the four sets of UDP ports to be forwarded to the DPA.

Features

These are some of the features of Vonage that I like:

  • Call forwarding -- you can tell Vonage to forward any calls to your Vonage number to another number after some number of rings. For example, if I am not home, Vonage will eventually ring my cellphone.
  • Simultaneous ring -- This is a very cool feature that is also on my business Linx system -- When someone calls, you can have Vonage right both the phone at home and a second number at the same time. So you can give out one number, and answer either at home or with your cellphone. This is one good way to hide your cellphone number, for example.
  • Web voice mail -- any voice mail stored by the system is stored as wav files. You can listen/download them from their web interface, or
  • have Vonage email the voice mail as an attachment, to your own email account

Overall Usage Experience

This is the "funny" part. As I said, I normally do not use my land line. However, the Vonage line's voice quality is a little better than my t-mobile service because of my home's location. Since now I have so many free nationwide minutes on Vonage, I started using it more. I bought a cheap but good basic quality cordless Panasonic phone, and started using the Vonage line to make calls when I am at home.

Links

  • . Vonage customer login Site