The Wonders of Vonage

By | September 12, 2005

I have had quite a few people recently ask me about Vonage, the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) company that I use for my home phone service. I figured I should just put something about it on my blog so I would have a link to point people to. Here is an email I sent to some friends a few months ago:

Dear Friends and Family,

I have another way for you to save money. I don’t want to come off like I am trying to sell you something, because if all of you started sending me emails trying to sell me stuff, I would send someone after your kneecaps. But if you had a way for me to save money and sent it to me because you cared about me, that would be pretty cool. So yes, there are referral incentives for me involved in what I am about to tell you, but I have waited three months until I was absolutely sure it was something I would want to recommend to my friends before I passed the word along.

Short version: if you have a high-speed Internet connection (most likely cable Internet, as DSL wouldn’t really work, for reasons I will explain in a second), you could probably be paying less for your home phone than you are right now.

Here comes the long version:

There is a company called Vonage, and they are in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) business. Basically, they provide home phone service that runs through your Internet connection instead of through phone lines. For some technical reason that I am not really clear on, they are not subject to all the taxes that regular phone companies are, which allows them to keep rates low.

Vonage has two residential plans: Premium Unlimited ($24.99/month) and Basic 500 ($14.99/month). First, let me tell you the features that both plans have, then I will tell you the difference between the two. Both plans come with the following features standard:

…and a few others.

The difference between the two plans is in the number of minutes you get. The Basic 500 plan comes with 500 minutes total, including free long distance anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, with every additional minute only 3.9 cents. Also, any calls made to other Vonage customers are free and donâ??t count against your 500 minutes. The Premium Unlimited plan, which is what Beth and I are on, comes with (you guessed it) unlimited minutes, including unlimited long distance in the U.S. and Canada. No peak hours, no limits, no nothing.

Here’s the way it worked for Beth and me. We had our home phone service through Qwest. We had the very basic package, which was $11/month and gave us a phone line. No long distance, no call waiting, nothing except a phone number. After all the taxes and stuff, we were paying $22.35 every month for our $11 plan, and we could really understand why people dump their home phone and just go with cell phones.

Then Beth’s parents got Vonage and told me about it. I signed up, and now we pay $27.24 every month after taxes (that’s right, we went from $11 in taxes to $2.25), and we get unlimited long distance. All the long distance from home meant that we were able to cut down on our cell phone minutes, so we switched to a plan that was $20/month cheaper between the two of us. So we are paying $5 more for our home phone, $20 less for our cell phones, and we never have to worry about minutes. Not bad, eh?

A couple other cool things that I love about Vonage, then I will tell you the couple drawbacks:

One really cool thing is virtual phone numbers. For $4.99 a month, you can get a second phone number in any area code you want. For example, for $9.98 extra a month, Beth and I could get phone numbers from Plano, Texas, and Lake Elsinore, California, which would mean that our families could dial a local number and talk to us for free. We haven’t done that, since Beth’s parents have Vonage and my whole family is on Verizon so we have mobile-to-mobile minutes, but it is a pretty cool thing to be able to do if you want to.

Another thing I really like is all the options about what to do with calls. If I am at work and Beth and Lindsay are taking a nap, I can log onto the Internet and tell my phone number to forward to my cell phone so they won’t be disturbed, or I can set it to go straight to voicemail without ringing. When we go to Texas in a few weeks, we have a couple cool options on what to do with our calls: we could take our Vonage box (about the size of a regular cable modem or router) with us and hook it up to a phone down there, allowing us to answer our home number as if we were still here in Utah; or we could set it up to forward to one (or both!) of our cell phones (caller ID on the cell phone works just like normal, so you can see if it is someone you want to waste cell minutes on); or we could set it to go straight to voicemail, then sit back and wait for the email notifications telling us we have messages.

My favorite thing about Vonage, though, is something I casually mentioned a couple times already: it is all Internet-based! You can make immediate changes to your service via the Internet. You can listen to your voicemail over the Internet (or through your phone like normal). You can get email notifications when you have a voicemail, including (if you want) actually attaching the voicemail audio file to the email. It is great, especially for a Web geek like me.

Now, for the negatives, which I believe are FAR outweighed by the positives:

First, you can keep your same number, but it takes about three weeks to transfer the number, during which time you are basically paying for both services. (Of course, if you are referred by a friend, you get your second month free, so it all evens out.)

Second, because your phone service comes through the Internet instead of through your phone lines, your existing phone jacks don’t work like they used to. However, it is pretty easy to tap into the existing lines to get the jacks working like normal; I am not an electrical wizard, and I figured it out on my own — about a week before Vonage put a detailed tutorial on their website.

Third, 911 service is a little different. Because your Vonage box is completely mobile (remember, I can take it to Texas if I want to), the 911 service doesn’t really know where you are. However, when you enable 911 service through your Web control panel, you enter a default location. So it works pretty much like normal, but you just have to be prepared for the fact that you might have to give them your address in case of an emergency.

Fourth, you have to have high-speed Internet to have Vonage. And because DSL is through the phone company, it wouldn’t make sense to pay them for the Internet and then use a phone service through someone else. So it pretty much has to be cable Internet, or some other non-DSL high-speed Internet solution.

Fifth (and the last one I can think of), if the Internet goes down, your phone goes down. However, you can set a “Network Availability Number,” which is a number that your calls will automatically forward to if your Internet is down. Ours is set to my cell phone, and it works fine.

Like I said at the beginning, there is an incentive involved. If I refer you and you sign up, you get your second month free and I get credit on my account for two months of whatever plan you sign up for. So if you are interested, just send me an email and I will fire a referral over to you.

Again, I hope this doesn’t make any of you hate me. I have been very pleased with the service, features, and value of Vonage, and I thought I would share.

Your friend,

One thought on “The Wonders of Vonage

  1. Steven Gardner

    We’ve been on the Vonage thing for months and swear by it too. It took us about three months to get our current number transferred, but Vonage at least kept giving us free months until they got it right.

    Another benefit, we’re moving to an another area and don’t have to change our phone number if we don’t want.

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