Thursday, March 22, 2007

Vonage One Year Later

Last year, after one outrageous long distance bill from AT&T for a call to a hotel in Rome, I bit the bullet and jumped into the VOIP world. I signed up for 2 lines from Vonage with unlimited long distance within the US and very reduced charges for international calls. Seemed like a great deal.

I wasn't worried that much about the bandwidth as I have a T1 line with 1.5Mb bi-directionally that spends most of it's time very idle, so bits weren't a problem. I also figured that in this case, contrary to my norm, I wasn't going to be on the bleeding edge as VOIP had been around for a while and should have had many of the kinks worked out.

However, that wasn't to be the case and today I took the first steps to move back to the POTS world. Which isn't all that hard as I hadn't gotten rid of our primary line. My reasons for the switch back include:

  • Voice quality - we continuously had voice quality problems. First with an annoying echo when calling certain numbers -- worst being my wife's cell phone which made the line pretty useless. Then with people not being able to hear us and having to regularly fall back to our POTS line so that they could. If it was just one call or one party, I could have worked around it, but it was consistent with many people.

    And yes, I worked with tech support at Vonage (including their first level support in India and in several cases with their second level support that seemed to be in the US). There were 4 separate times where I worked with them for like 45 minutes to an hour as they tried one thing and another and required me to go down and reset the switch manually.

    I should have recognized that there would be this kind of issue when their documentation was very clear about "many problems are solved by just power cycling the switch" -- I don't think I've ever power cycled my POTS phone and yet it seems to just work.

    In any case, we never got the audio problems fixed... they would get better for a little while or to a particular number, but shortly, I'd end up with what?... What did you say?... Can you speak louder? (yes, they asked *me* if I could speak louder).
  • Even when we didn't have audio quality problems, we had bandwidth issues (yes, even on a T1). As soon as I started downloading a big file -- and in todays world of sending around multi-megabyte attachments, this wasn't exactly under my control -- the call started cutting out. Even when we downgraded the audio bandwidth to their lowest setting of 30Kbs which, of course, made the audio quality problems worse.

So I guess I will have to wait a bit further before joining the VOIP revolution.

For now, I've signed up with Verizon's Freedom plan giving me unlimited long distance in the US for a good bit more than what I would pay Vonage ($44 vs $25) and with a few less services, but I have a phone that just works and I don't have to spend lots of time explaining audio to them or go down to my basement to reset the device. I've kept one of my Vonage lines, but downgraded to their $15 plan to deal with transferring back our registered numbers at school and such. Once the switchback is complete, we'll just get rid of that too.

I have friends who have no problems with Vonage. Perhaps they have a better switch... Perhaps they talk to people with better hearing... Or, perhaps their just more willing to deal with the problems. I don't know.

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