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Vonage.com Voip Service (a Critique)


HolyMoly

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Installation did not go all that smoothly ... but in fairness to Vonage.com, this was primarily due to the weirdness of Win98SE that might not be experienced by users of other operating systems. What follows are the trials/tribulations I went through during the install process.

The first problem I ran into was my cable-modem, an RCA model DCM245. When I originally signed up for broadband access, my ISP was ATTBI.com. And, since I had no ethernet card at the time, ATTBI techs hooked up my computer via a USB connection. When it comes to internet connections, the modem will work either way. Later, ATTBI sold out to Comcast and I had no break in cable internet comms.

Prior to signing up for Vonage.com, I looked at their recommended installation instructions for single-computer usage. And, it was pretty straightforward ... with one hitch they didn't explain. They said that Vonage services would only work over ethernet cables, not USB. Fortunately, before my "special box" arrived from Vonage, I found the reason why. The RCA DCM245 modem may have both USB and ethernet ports on the back ... but both cannot work simultaneously. This is right in the modem's user manual. If I'd kept my computer hooked up to my modem with a USB cable and merely plugged Vonage's box into the modem's ethernet port, the modem would "default" to the first port it found active and shut off the other port. So, I had to buy an ethernet card.

I chose the D-Link DFE-530TX+ card ($14 at Best Buy). Installation instructions for the drivers seemed quite simple but were not. In theory, the driver CD would simply load the drivers and ask me to reboot ... and after reboot, things would work. And a precautionary call to Comcast garnered the same information. "Sure," said Comcast, "simply disconnect your USB cable, install your ethernet card drivers, plug your ethernet card into your modem and off you go!" Wrongamundo.

Instead of installing the drivers, the driver installation CD asked me to insert my Win98SE OEM CD to look first for one file (SECUR32.DLL) ... then asked me to insert it again to look for another (SNMPAPI.DLL). But here's the rub. The directory location specified to look for those two files on the Win98SE OEM CD doesn't exist on any Win98SE OEM CD. However (thank God I have a good memory), the directory location does exist on the old old ATTBI installation CD for the RCA modem ... which most Comcast customers have probably thrown away. Fortunately, I found a quick fix.

I rebooted. Then, when the driver installation CD asked me to insert my Win98SE OEM CD to look for SECUR32.DLL, I merely clicked OK. This gave me a default location window showing the ATTBI installation disk directory. I knew that SECUR32.DLL existed in my WINDOWS\SYSTEM directory ... so I changed the info in the default location window to reflect that. It accepted it. Then, when the driver installation CD asked me to insert my Win98SE OEM CD again to look for SNMPAPI.DLL, I clicked OK again ... giving me the default location showing the ATTBI installation disk directory. I knew that SNMPAPI.DLL existed in my WINDOWS directory ... so I change the info in the default location window to reflect that. It accepted it, loaded the ethernet card drivers, and only then asked me if I wanted to reboot. And, upon reboot, I was back on the net (phew).

Mind you, at this time, I was still waiting for my Vonage box to come UPS. I figured its installation, with my driver problems behind me, would be a breeze. The box arrived today. I followed the instructions exactly as described. And, once I was done, my phone connection worked just fine ... but my browsers did not. I couldn't go anywhere on the web or even get email.

So, at 5:40 PM PST (using my Vonage phone connection), I called up Vonage technical support ... where I listened to the same short piece of elevator music repeating itself over and over amidst short voiceovers of "Please continue to hold. Our representatives will be with you in a moment." A human being finally came on the line at 6:07 PM PST (that's 27 minutes on hold, folks). And to fix the problem, I had to do something that was not in the installation brochure. I had to click on my START button, click on RUN, and type in WINIPCFG. When I ran that, it showed "PPP Adapter" in the window. He asked me to click on the arrow ... and below "PPP Adapter," I saw a reference to my D-Link Ethernet card. I chose the card, clicked the "Release" button then the "Renew" button ... and finally, I was browsing the web.

Afterward, I made 2 calls ... one local, one long distance. And, during the long distance call, I experimented by uploading a large file at the same time. The phone performed flawlessly and sounded as good as (or better than) an ordinary phone call. However, I did notice two things on the local call worth mentioning.

VOIP callers must remember that they're not connected to Ma Bell anymore. First, all numbers must be dialed with 11-digit dialing, EVEN local calls (1-555-555-5555). Secondly, when you hang up the phone, it takes Vonage about 30 seconds or so to realize that you've "hung up." An immediate callback to me following a hangup garnered a busy signal. But 30 or so seconds later, I got the ring. Of course (grin), for all I know, it could be the same for regular phone service.

Now ... I've only had this system installed for an hour or so. But, outside of the long wait for technical support, I'm otherwise impressed with the service. The tech knew exactly what my problem was (a Win98SE configuration problem, not a Vonage problem) and led me right to the source ... and the fix was immediate. And quality-wise, like I said, calls sound as good as (or better than) an ordinary phone call. If I don't run into any other issues, I'm sold!

P.S. However, before hanging up with the tech support person, I had to offer one suggestion -- to change that damned annoying and repetitive "on hold" elevator music to, say, at least 4 or 5 different tunes playing back to back. It was REALLY annoying. I'd sooner listen to "Macarena" than that ... and that says a lot (grin).

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So, at 5:40 PM PST (using my Vonage phone connection), I called up Vonage technical support ... where I listened to the same short piece of elevator music repeating itself over and over amidst short voiceovers of "Please continue to hold. Our representatives will be with you in a moment." A human being finally came on the line at 6:07 PM PST (that's 27 minutes on hold, folks). And to fix the problem, I had to do something that was not in the installation brochure. I had to click on my START button, click on RUN, and type in WINIPCFG. When I ran that, it showed "PPP Adapter" in the window. He asked me to click on the arrow ... and below "PPP Adapter," I saw a reference to my D-Link Ethernet card. I chose the card, clicked the "Release" button then the "Renew" button ... and finally, I was browsing the web.

That's actually pretty standard.

When my local cable company set me up for broadband after I moved @ a year ago, the guy they sent out to make sure it was all up and running didn't know that. I asked him if my connection was still trying to connect through my old IP and he gave me a dead look. After refreshing, it was off like a charm.

Glad to hear it's working well.

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All's well that ends well, I guess. I'll post in a month or so to give a new critique, good or bad, after I've had a chance to let things fly for a while. In the meantime, CLICK HERE to read my response to the NY Times article on Vonage. The guy who wrote the article doesn't have all the facts straight.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Just a briefie. My Vonage service is still working great. But, I recently noticed one anomaly. Vonage users have to remember that Vonage is located in New Jersey ... and that their phone calls must first clear their central hub. Consequently, I tried to call Art Bell the other night on the line for "calls West of the Rockies." No go. But when I called the toll-free number for "calls East of the Rockies," the call went through (though I didn't make it on the air). So, even though I'm a West coaster, I have to call in on the East coast line since that is where Vonage's hub is located.

Surely, this will affect other "localized toll-free" number calls. Fortunately, toll-free numbers are so cheap now that most entities no longer use localized toll-free service. I suspect Bell is one of the few hangers-on ... partly out of convenience to provide an additional line to choose from on his console.

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Ah, a fellow west coaster :)

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Hmmm... Looks like the big boys want to get involved in a bigger way:

A Bright New Day for the Telecom Industry, if the Public Will Go Along

January 12, 2004

By BERNARD SIMON

TORONTO, Jan. 11 - When two dozen executives from Verizon

Communications and Nortel Networks uncorked the Champagne

at Ristorante DeGrezia on East 50th Street in Manhattan

last Wednesday evening, they were celebrating much more

than a new equipment contract.

By granting Nortel an exclusive 18-month deal to supply the

equipment that sends phone calls as digital data like that

used over the Internet, Verizon, the nation's biggest phone

company, had given a huge lift to a technology that some

industry executives say could be the most important

development in public telecommunications networks since

analog switches made way for digital equipment two decades

ago.

Neither company would affix a dollar amount to the deal,

but Verizon has said that if demand warrants, it will spend

up to $2 billion by the end of next year updating its

network with Internet-based technology.

Nortel, despite being a longtime leader in marketing

telephone network equipment, has had little to celebrate in

the last three years. During the industry's protracted

slump, it has shed two-thirds of its staff, reducing its

work force to 36,000, and vacated dozens of plants and

offices. Little more than a year ago, its stock languishing

at less than a dollar, Nortel was in danger of being

delisted from the New York and Toronto exchanges.

By last Friday, Nortel's stock had climbed to $6.15, up

more than 29 percent since the Verizon deal was announced

two days earlier.

"It's pretty exciting news for both parties," said Blaik

Kirby, a senior vice president at Adventis, a consulting

firm in Boston. "It will certainly spur the equipment

market."

So far, most of the equipment sold for Internet-based phone

communications has been to big corporate users. And the

extent to which Verizon or other big carriers will actually

back up their visions with money depends on how quickly

customers embrace Internet-based telephone services.

With this vote of confidence by Verizon, Mr. Kirby

predicted that other phone companies would accelerate their

plans for the new technology, known as voice over Internet

protocol, or VoIP.

Even some of the other three dozen equipment suppliers that

compete for Verizon's business found some consolation in

the Internet phone deal. "Nortel is in first with Verizon,

and we acknowledge that," said Richard Muldoon, a spokesman

for Lucent Technologies, the manufacturer based in Murray

Hill, N.J., whose switches make up more than half of

Verizon's existing digital network. Like Nortel, Lucent has

been battered by the telecommunications slump.

Mr. Muldoon says he sees plenty of opportunities ahead in

the Internet phone business because the new technology "is

just beginning to shape itself, and it will be many years

before it plays itself out."

Susan Spradley, the president of Nortel's wireline network

unit, added that, for the first time since digital

telephone switches replaced analog ones in the 1980's,

"this is an opportunity to remap the share of different

competitors in the market."

If all goes to plan, Internet switching technology will

enable phone companies and cable operators to use their own

networks and Internet "backbone'' networks as conduits for

a host of new voice, data and video services. "Instead of

leaving voice mail, we'll be leaving video mail," said Mark

A. Wegleitner, Verizon's chief technology officer, citing

one example of the applications Verizon envisions.

"We are convinced that this technology is ready," Mr.

Wegleitner said.

The technology breaks voice conversations into small

packets of data, which are dispersed over any number of

possible routes, mixed with other people's data

transmissions, and then sorted out at the receiving end.

The approach is considered much more efficient than the

conventional telephone network, which routes calls via

circuit switches. A single phone call ties up an entire

network circuit. Moreover, packet-switching gear takes up

less space than circuit switches, potentially allowing

phone companies to use fewer and smaller central switching

offices.

Michael O'Hara, vice president for marketing at Sonus

Networks, an equipment supplier based in Westford, Mass.,

estimated that installing a packet-switching network could

be done for about a third the cost of a circuit switching

system, and that operating savings could be 50 percent to

60 percent.

So far, many phone companies have expressed interest in the

technology but have held off placing substantial orders

while they size up their competitors' intentions. Some

analysts and customers have also questioned whether the

quality of packet-based telephone signals yet matches that

of existing phone service.

AT&T, the long-distance carrier, has said that it plans to

use Internet technology as a way to compete more

effectively for local telephone customers. And Time Warner

Cable, which signed a deal with Sprint and MCI last month

to help it offer Internet-based phone service to its

customers, is but one of several cable companies pursuing

the technology.

But most carriers so far have committed themselves only to

relatively modest projects. Qwest Communications, a big

regional phone company, has started an Internet-based

telephone service in Minnesota; Sprint has a similar pilot

project in Kansas. Among cable operators, Cox Digital

Telephone, an arm of Cox Communications, is starting its

first test of Internet-based phone service in Roanoke, Va.

"Everyone accepts that VoIP is going to be the future in

the same way as everyone accepts that optical fiber is the

best way to carry traffic," said Mr. O'Hara at Sonus, whose

customers include Qwest, AT&T, Global Crossing and Deutsche

Telekom.

But echoing many others in the industry, Mr. O'Hara said

that "the question is timing."

The Synergy Research Group, in Phoenix, estimates that the

market for voice over Internet protocol equipment grew

about 23 percent in 2003, to $589 million. The biggest

suppliers so far have included Nortel, Lucent, Sonus and

Cisco Systems. The bulk of Cisco's orders have come from

the corporate sector, while all Sonus's business is with

carriers. Germany's Siemens has won sizable orders from big

suppliers to European carriers.

But for carriers, "you'd have to view Nortel as the overall

market leader right now," said Jon Arnold, an Internet

switching specialist at Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm

in Toronto. He cited Nortel's broad range of hardware, its

extensive multimedia applications and a massive installed

base of digital switches. "No other vendor can offer that

full suite," Mr. Arnold said.

Mr. Wegleitner said Verizon was also swayed by Nortel's

"good migration strategy" from circuit to packet switches.

Although Nortel has deals with MCI and Sprint, Ms.

Spradley said the Verizon deal was especially significant

because "they want to do the full gamut of services, from

enterprise to long distance to local offices."

Nortel owes its comeback at least in part to a policy, even

during its long slump, to keep spending close to 20 percent

of revenues on research and development, even as it was

cutting back on almost every other part of its business.

"They learnt the lesson that you can't skimp on R.& D. in a

downturn," said Michael Urlocker, an analyst at UBS

Securities in Canada. Internet switching, in Mr. Urlocker's

view, "is delivering the right-angle turn that this company

needed."

Nortel added another component to its Internet network

products last week with an agreement to sell and install

routers made by Avici Systems of North Billerica, Mass.

Routers are crucial components of a packet-switching

network. Nortel already has a small equity stake in Avici;

under the latest deal, it can buy an additional 6.7 percent

in the company.

According to Mr. Wegleitner, the rate of introduction for

the new Internet-based technology depends on "a few moving

parts" - including the response from large business

customers and the rate at which existing circuit switching

technology is replaced. Ms. Spradley agreed that "it's hard

to quantify what the deployment ramp will be."

Such reticence reflects a lingering uncertainty on just how

much enthusiasm users will show for the unfolding array of

Internet-based services.

Mr. Arnold at Frost & Sullivan predicts that total spending

on Internet switching equipment will grow almost eightfold

over the next four years. But even he sounded a note of

caution: "It all depends on demand. If business and

residential customers don't take up VoIP, you'll see these

guys go quiet."

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/12/technolo...643937907ca4db3

---------------------------------

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I'm actually kind of surprised that my broadband ISP (a big one) didn't lock in my territory early on. Vonage has been the only game in town for over a year.

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FWIW, my broadband ISP just released their own VoIP service plan ... and boy, does it suck big time, hehe. Not one of their three offerings includes an anytime/anyday rate for long distance ... and their cheapest plan is still more expensive than my Vonage plan and has connection fees ON TOP of it!!!

Jeez Louise, if they're trying to "compete" with Vonage or any other plan, they're doing an incredibly lousy job of it.

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  • 6 months later...

Here's an update:

Web Phone Service May Have It All, Except Many Users

By KEN BELSON

Published: July 25, 2004

TWO years ago, Allen Tsong had just about had enough. Tired of paying $50 a month for a local phone line fromVerizon that he rarely used, he canceled the service and ordered a voice-over-Internet phone from Vonage, a start-up that entered the market two years ago. He has never looked back.

To start his service, Mr. Tsong, who lives in Brooklyn, attached an ordinary phone to a paperback-sized adapter that can send his calls over high-speed Internet connections. The biggest draw was the price: Mr. Tsong spends $15 a month for 500 minutes of calls anywhere in the United States or Canada, and speaks to family and colleagues in China for pennies a minute.

"Why shell out 40 to 50 bucks a month for a regular phone line?'' he asked, adding that he had installed another Internet phone in his Brooklyn office. "At first, my wife was skeptical, but as long as she can pick it up and get a dial tone, she'll use it."

Mr. Tsong enjoys many of its other features, too. He can check voice mail on the Web, keep his number when he travels and forward calls to a cellphone or other line.

In moving to the new phones, Mr. Tsong has joined a growing band of residential and business customers who want to free themselves from an old telecommunications order often marked by high taxes and lukewarm customer service - an old order that crumbled a bit more last week when AT&T announced that it was easing out of the traditional consumer phone business. And Verizon, the biggest of the Baby Bells, said that it would roll out Internet service nationally, a recognition that its traditional network is fast being eclipsed.

Once the province of techno-nerds, the new phones are going mainstream as a variety of companies, from start-ups like Vonage to more traditional companies, like the Bells andCablevision, introduce services. These companies can charge less for Internet phone services because the calls, sent as data packets, typically avoid the switching fees that make up the bulk of the cost of an ordinary call.

The flood of new offerings, though, has made it harder for consumers to distinguish between core needs, like price and voice quality, and all of the bells and whistles. But with a bit of searching and skepticism, you can cut your bill in half without sacrificing much of the reliability and quality of traditional phones.

First things first: to use a voice-over-Internet phone, you need a broadband connection, which typically costs $25 to $50 a month. That sounds like a lot, until you consider that you also get a reliable Internet connection that is 25 times as fast as dial-up service. Most cable and phone companies now sell broadband connections, but phone companies often require you to keep a regular line to get a high-speed Internet line. That makes an Internet phone superfluous, unless you want two lines.

Some companies, like Qwest, offer stand-alone broadband connections for $49.99 a month; others charge less for broadband lines if you keep your phone line. Companies like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision also offer high-speed data lines and voice-over-Internet phones with their programming, allowing consumers to bundle the three services at a reduced price.

Once a broadband line is in place, you are ready to compare Internet phone plans. As Mr. Tsong knows, price is the big selling point. Most providers offer scaled plans: the more minutes, the higher the monthly fee. Some, like CallVantage from AT&T, offer one price - $34.99, but with introductory specials - for unlimited domestic minutes, with no extra taxes. Dialing internationally costs more because carriers have to pay their overseas counterparts to connect the calls. But rates are still lower than for ordinary long-distance service. In a Vonage plan, a call to London costs 3 cents a minute; Tokyo costs a penny more.

One way to start comparing prices is to visit sites that list links to various voice-over-Internet providers. The sites include www.easycall.net/broadband-phone.shtml and www.cryptosavvy.com/voice_over_internet_protocol.htm.

If cost were the only factor, more consumers would have ditched their old phones already. Instead, only 300,000 or so have signed up, because most consumers remain hesitant about the quality of Internet calls.

As little as a year ago, those fears were valid. Many consumers, including Mr. Tsong, complained about hiccups in their conversations; these can occur when calls, as they are broken into packets of data, are momentarily lost while traveling over the Internet. Sometimes, calls go dead.

tter software and Internet connections have reduced these problems, but the same axiom holds: Internet calls are only as good as the lines that connect them. If your broadband connection is reliable, the quality of your calls should be, too.

There is an ancillary concern: the quality of the network your provider uses to connect the call. Cable companies and long-distance companies like AT&T and Covad, a national broadband service provider, run their own networks, so voice calls are less likely to break up. By comparison, Vonage uses five different networks to connect its calls, raising the likelihood of interruptions.

Still, the gaps among various Internet providers are narrowing, to the point that fewer and fewer consumers can detect the difference between traditional and Internet phone service.

"Consumers shouldn't believe the reports that the quality isn't as good as plain old telephone service," said Ford Cavallari, senior vice president of the broadband and media practice at Adventis, a telecommunications consultant in Boston.

Mr. Cavallari, who uses an Internet phone, is smitten with the features. Like most other users, he was able to keep his old number or choose a new area code from anywhere in the country.

The advantages are clear. When Mr. Cavallari visits San Francisco, he plugs his adapter into a broadband line and gets a dial tone from Boston. Friends calling him on ordinary lines in the Boston area are charged only for a local call, even though he is 3,000 miles away.

Like many business travelers, Mr. Cavallari uses a Web site to track every call he makes. He can also listen to his voice mail on the Web, because the calls are stored like any other computer audio file.

Like any emerging technology, though, voice-over-Internet has plenty of wrinkles. The biggest concern is losing service if there is a blackout. Some companies sell battery packs to keep modems going.

Consumers like Stephen Caccam, a Vonage subscriber in New Canaan, Conn., also complain about the time needed to transfer existing phone numbers to new Internet providers. The process should take a few hours, but Mr. Caccam spent weeks trying to sort it out. In the interim, Vonage gave him a temporary number, but not all his friends and relatives knew about it.

AND some services do not allow you to send faxes with a voice-over-Internet line. That can be particularly inconvenient for small businesses.

Perhaps the most hazardous variable is the inability of emergency services to automatically track callers who dial 911. When callers sign up for a phone plan, they can register their location with emergency services. Lawmakers are trying to hammer out regulations for these and other issues, and could eventually start taxing Internet lines like traditional phones.

Do not expect higher prices anytime soon, though. Lawmakers are unlikely to act before next year. And that means voice-over-Internet phones, while still not a perfect substitute for plain old phone lines, remain a good deal for many consumers.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/25/business...ml?pagewanted=2

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  • 10 months later...

Switched to Vonage today :) Phone bill went from $65 (including taxes) to $27 for all local and long distance. There was a month delay in getting it switched over from ATT, and the big boys dont like to deal with the paper work. Installation went fairly smooth--an Indian guy set up my ISP for Mac useage--and someone at their headquarters in NJ, set me up on the features. Why anyone would want to stick with one of the major phone companies is beyond me, as I couldnt be happier...

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  • 8 months later...

It took a while for vonage to recognize some 800 numbers - and sometimes when the Comcast server is slow, there are drop outs. But all in all, its a pretty good service

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we use it--can't complain about the service or the hooking up/set up process.

My only complaint: all the ads say "keep your # and switch to us!" but they told us we couldn't keep our local # and made us switch to a new one.

Kind of a pain in the ass, as we had just moved and given out the number to everyone on both sides of the family. 2 weeks later we had to re-contact everyone and say "Hey, you know our new number we just gave you...? <_>

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