I realized I haven’t said much about how VoIP has worked for me in just about two years since first moving over to it.
In the past two years I’ve mainly been with an interesting little company out of Albany, New York called ViaTalk. I also recently tried out service from a company founded by an ex-ViaTalk employee that thought it could be done differently called VOIPo.
In the last two years things have been hit and miss. One thing is for sure. VoIP technology is still not likely to get confused for traditional copper-based phone service. In some ways that’s bad but it’s also good in other ways.
For my house the main desire was to heavily reduce the $1,800 I’d been paying for two phone numbers (not counting cellular service). ViaTalk offered various plans and I took their unlimited service that costs $199 a year but included a special offer of throwing in a second year for free. That got the main price down to about $99 a year per line. That’s quite a savings from $1,800 to $200. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.
One annoying thing about ViaTalk is that they have a couple of small fees that they don’t include in the price and currently they have no way to pay those yearly (they did the first year but not the second). So every month I get this little bills for under $2. I’d be much happier to just see the total and pay it in one lump. As I noted before, it’s quite nice to pay a phone bill once a year (or so) and forget about it.
As far as the features, I can’t say enough good things about it. Most VoIP companies run circles around what you can get with traditional phone service. For a tweaker like me that’s a big positive. You get so many that it’d take a much longer post to even begin to cover them all. One I like is the ability to completely filter all my inbound (and outbound) calls in any number of ways. Got an annoying number that keeps calling? Just set that number (or name) to always ring busy, go right to voicemail, forward it to another number (this one can be fun) or other options.
I had a medical bill that I was being harrassed about (and that I didn’t owe) so I set that caller to have all his calls forward to his boss’ extension. I wish I could have been there when that call went through. In another similar case I forwarded the call to a number that instructs the caller to “please deposit 25 cents”. There are useful call logs, more flexible greetings and all manner of advanced features.
The service works simply enough. You take a small phone adapter and plug it into your Internet service (generally a router somewhere near your PC usually) and then you plug your phone into that. Things are really simple if you have a cordless phone with cordless handsets. Then it really doesn’t matter where the main phone is. Setup is often non-existent. You just plug the adapter in, then the phone and start dialing. Transfering any existing phone numbers was also quite easy.
Speaking of advanced features and the phone adapter itself there’s one big feature that may be useful to you. Most of these adapters are able to actually provide you with a free (if your provider supports it as ViaTalk does) second “line”. That requires a bit of explanation. You don’t actually get a second phone number for this line but it can be used just like one. If your child is hogging the phone you can just pick up a phone connected to this second line and dial out on it as if you had a full second line. Callers will see your same number. This might be very handy for some households. Since I have two full lines my adapter is maxed out so I don’t get (or need) this feature.
ViaTalk’s technical support is also miles ahead of anything I ever got with Verizon. While they may not always be fast they generally can fix an issue and most of the reps care about your issues.
As far as the service itself, that’s where things get questionable. It is, to be accurate, different. Some things just won’t work like you’re used to. Some things aren’t as reliable. I notice it takes longer for calls to go through (we’re talking just a matter of a couple seconds but it’s still longer). Then there are calls that just don’t go through. I have this happen about 10% of the time. I dial and the phone just doesn’t ever connect. I hang up and re-dial and it usually works fine.
There are times calls with drop. This happens more than calls not going through. I’ll be talking and suddenly I’ll hear a fast busy signal. The longer the call the more likely it is to happen. However, this too happens rarely and calling back is not a problem.
Then there are a couple of strange things. One example is something all VoIP companies are now struggling with that seems to have come out of nowhere involving what are known as DTMF tones. These are the tone sounds your phone makes when it dials. Sometimes when I’m talking the other caller will hear a random tone or I’ll hear one while someone else is speaking. This has something to do with the phone adapter confusing that snippet of voice for a pushed button and playing the appropriate tone. This doesn’t happen often but it’s surprising when it does. It took so long to equate it with the phone service that many of us failed to even mention it to one another. Now VoIP users are comparing notes in an effort to eliminate the problem.
The quality of the calls is generally as good as anything I ever had with regular phone service. Every so often it’ll sound funny but that’s rare. It also helps to have a good Internet service provider. Things have improved quite a bit now that I’ve moved from Comcast to Verizon FiOS for my Internet service.
As far as VOIPo goes, I ended up canceling my service with them after about 3 months of trying it out. It wasn’t that it was bad in any way. In fact, I found their technical support to be even better. The issue was that I didn’t find it any better really. They don’t have any small extra fees like ViaTalk does but the differences were so minimal that I just felt more comfortable staying with a service I already am comfortable with.
The bottom line is that I’m not quite ready to give up on landline phone service but I’m no longer willing to pay the costs associated with traditional service. The savings are well worth the minor hassles. I have several friends and family members using VoIP (several with ViaTalk) and none of them are as interested in the extras as I am. All of them use it and find that it works just fine for them.