VOIP gets the job done

I used my Vonage (X-Ten) softphone for all but one call last week based on a flickering wi-fi connection in my hotel room. I was also able to use Skype on occasion to connect with people as well. All connections were computer to computer or computer to phone.

I’m sold on this as a way to go now and even just changed my Skype name to assure ease of use for the future. I was (and am still) atmasphere on Skype but have added jonathangreene and will most likely use that as my full-time skype name. I definitely saw an opportunity to lock in my actual name as well as my usual alias and took it. No need for someone else to snag it before I had a chance.

Now that I’ve got it running on my Macs at home, I can see using it much more frequently. I love the notion of calling to phones and believe the rates are unbeatable! Skype to Skype is free and you can Skype to phone close to 500 minutes a month for about $12. Prices are listed in Euro, so you need to do a quick conversion. I have not actually used Skype to call phones yet, but it seems pretty straight forward.

Feel free to look me up and if you are online.

Pocket PC as a WiFiphone

The Vonage Softphone forums have a few posts on this and while it’s not supported, it definitely works. I don’t have and probably won’t be getting a PPC device, but for those of you with WIFI PPC’s and a Vonage account, you might be quite happy reading this… The Softphone service is pretty cool and if you add it on to your Vonage account, you get 500 minutes unlimited local and LD, which is a pretty good amount of talking (not power business use, but average). If you have a softphone account now, this is just another way to make use of it instead of lugging a laptop around…

This week’s How-To is a handy one for the folks out there who use the Vonage Voice Over IP (VOIP) service and happen to have a Pocket PC device with WiFi. We%u2019re going to show you how to turn just about any Pocket PC PDA device in to a real telephone with a working telephone number. At the end of this, we’re also going to post our phone number so you can test it out (it might be a long distance call for you). [Engadget]

Call Looping

As I mentioned in the previous post I am using the Vonage softphone to handle my calls while I am out of range for T-Mobile this week. I just did an interesting trick I thought I’d share for the other person who might find this interesting. my T-Mobile mobile is forwading to my main Vonage line which is forwarding to my Vonage Softphone. Basically all calls are being routed to my softphone which is very cool – at least to me.

Vonage to the Rescue

I am currently in Vermont with my family getting away from the hubbub in NYC this week. I had no idea my mobile was going to be out of service here and was stressing a bit about how I would stay connected for work purposes … until I recalled that nice feature of Vonage, the softphone. The hotel we are staying in offers free wifi in all the rooms and across the entire property from what I’ve been told though I’ve only tested in two rooms (we’ve moved once, long story and perhaps another post)…

The Vonage softphone is a $9.95/mo add-on that gives you 500 minutes talk time unlimited local and long distance calling. It’s a software application that creates a SIP phone (Session Initiation Protocol) connection to any other phone of your choosing. The call quality is pretty good, not great — had a few drop outs which don’t seem to plague Skype on this PC, but may be more connection speed related than anything else.

All in all it’s a great work-around for my situation and something I am glad to have. There’s no way I could afford to be disconnected at the moment given work-load… I just wish Vonage gave this away as part of package allowing me to use my existing number with them rather than having to add another number and charge… maybe as competition cooks a bit more they’ll reconsider.

Who really owns your phone number?

This site was just linked in my comments on the previous post and shows who really owns your number… pretty interesting to decode the players based on your phone numbers. Looks like Vonage is buying from quite a few players and Verizon, not surprisingly is a primary seller. It’s also interesting to note that even though my number was ported from Nextel to T-Mobile, Nextel actually owns it.

AT&T Uses Its Long Past to Promote Its Near Future

And yet another article covering the VOIP market… The NYT takes on AT&T CallVantage. The more I’ve thought about it since my last post on the topic, the more it seems like AT&T is really pushing this harder than Vonage. I realize Vonage has yet to really launch a consumer campaign, but do they ever have their work cut out for them.

AT&T spent $25 Million just during the Olympics… I received another DM piece today as well — I believe that makes 4 so far this summer. A little birdy told me that later in the year AT&T is set to shake it up a bit with some enhanced product offerings for CallVantage…Game on!

CallVantage, which connects calls over broadband lines and also avoids some taxes imposed on phone companies, is 20 to 30 percent cheaper than ordinary phone service.

AT&T hopes the lower price will help it draw customers who would have abandoned the company for the Baby Bells, which now offer a full range of telephone services. In the coming months, AT&T also plans to introduce a wireless plan that, in theory, could be packaged with its Internet phone service at a discount.

But it is far from certain whether AT&T has the muscle to win control of the emerging Internet phone market from start-ups like Vonage, which already has 250,000 subscribers, or its more powerful rivals among the regional Bell companies.

Nor is it clear that its favored mass-market approach – which typically involves spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising and promotions – is the best way to invigorate its consumer business. [New York Times]

Thoughts for Vonage… Or ATT

It’s clear to me that Vonage is in deep now since ATT CallVantage has really been pushing their service out on a very mass, very aggressive level. As I evaluated VOIP services I considered both but felt I should go with Vonage since I had read so many favorable things about the service and how many bloggers and tech leaders had been digging it.

It struck me today how of course I felt that way based on my media consumption — primarily aggregated feed reading of blogs and news services. The ATT people have skipped that early-adopter market since they’ve already been reached instead going straight to the meaty part of the curve, suggesting a revolution in phone service for consumers. If you watch the commercials, you’ll see that they are bright and upbeat and focus on cool features that enhance and benefit life. That might be a stretch, it is after-all just phone service but they really are aspirational… the employees featured are Inventors, which seems cool. Their marketing and site is much more consumer facing that that of Vonage which feels techie.

Vonage and others (I have no experience or interest sorry in Packet8) fall into an easy trap in marketing their service… They focus on the fact that it’s a tech product. Sure you hook it up to your router and it uses your broadband connection, but that should be secondary to what can be done with the service. I just did a quick comparison with ATT and realized that while it may cost $5 more per month, it’s actually a more feature rich service and in thinking about it, I want those things… or I’d like to see Vonage counter with some additional options.

Let’s break down some of the cool benefits which clearly need to be communicated sooner rather than later since it’s already starting to get pretty noisy out there.

  • Price — It’s such a clear and simple one, but it will also not matter soon enough since it seems everyone will be pretty close to the same. Vonage is $29.99 and ATT is $34.99 (not including their current offer of $19.99/mo for 6 months) for similar service. Vonage does offer lower monthly rates with minute based packages, but let’s focus on the unlimited ones which most parallel the current crazily overpriced stuff we are getting from Verizon and others.
  • Call Forwarding — When I first realized what it was exactly with the Vonage service I was amazed! I can have my phone ring at the same time as another line, or have it ring the second line after a certain amount of time. This is great in my home office for when I need to step out or when travelling…Calls automatically reach me on my mobile. One number and it’s easy to have calls reach me. Tonight I realized that ATT kills this with the addition of 4 more lines for a total or 5 lines. They call it Locate Me and shoot down Call Forwarding with it since it’s much more robust. If I was Vonage, I’d be looking to add more lines to the Call Forward service to be operating on the same level.
  • Voicemail — Yes they both have it (of course) and both offer email notifications which is a slick service and you can get the voicemail as an email attachment if you like to listen right on your computer. ATT understands this more as a customer benefit though and pushes the fact that you can pass the Voicemail as an email to your friends and family. There is no magic here except for the packaging.
  • Do Not Disturb — Only ATT has it and it’s totally cool. With a baby at home, we turn the ringer off in the room she sleeps. We could manage this though with a few clicks instead and keep the ringer on for other times.
  • Softphone — Only Vonage has it and I think they should be giving it away rather than charging $9.99/ mo for 500 minutes. This is a very slick advantage (for now) that could really be pushed for those traveling who want to use their computers to receive and make calls. I would use this for sure if I did not have to pay so much extra each month. Since the forwarding feature is already simultaneously capable of ringing a second line and in my world it would do more, why not push the softphone as a way to handle calls. I don’t really want a second number for my computer, I just want the ability to be reached and I like the idea of using the laptop. There are plenty of times when cellular is limited in hotels or it’s too expensive when abroad and the computer would be a terrific way to handle this. (I know international calling rates are different, but I also know people who take their ATA box around with them and make calls as if locally from where ever.)
  • Personal Conferencing — Only ATT has it and it’s definitely missing from Vonage. The ads make it seem extremely powerful using 10 lines in the example. It’s 3-Way calling plus, but Vonage does not yet even offer this basic land-line level of conferencing.

That’s pretty much it for the current major features. Vonage does offer additional virtual lines and toll-free service which can all ring on the same original line you subscribed with.

Even though Vonage established the market here, they are clearly in serious risk of being forced into being a marginal player based on ATT’s fast product development and superior marketing clout – both in dollars and in presence. I can’t speak with any technical understanding, but on the surface the products are essentially the same. It’s only a matter of time for the hardware to be compatible (as I am sure it is now actually but not allowed easily for quality of service issues I presume) across service and people will be able to switch just as easily as they did back in the Phone Wars of the 80s and 90s. ATT is pretty comfortable in this space since that is how they were birthed… Vonage could be left standing as another tech company that innovated, but could not get out of their own way.

Vonage gets $105 million

Just caught this over at Om’s blog…

Vonage, in a bitter feud with AT&T’s CallVantage and other VoIP service providers raised a whopping $105 million Wednesday, bringing its total VC funding to $208 million. Incidentally that’s $8 million more than the amount earmarked by AT&T to promote its VoIP services. To fans of World Series of Poker, this will look like a master bluff. With around 240,000 customers Vonage for now seems to be the largest consumer VoIP provider. Using those metrics, venture capitalists have put a value of $867 per customer. Or about 29 months of premium package of $29.95 a month. [Om Malik on Broadband]

I hope Vonage does not push through with the $50-70 Million reported ad campaign. They’ve got the lowest brand recognition of any phone company and are quite small. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to pull off a Michael Jordan-esque stunt like Worldcom did pre-MCI.

In my humble opinion, they’d be much better off continuing their online marketing assault coupled with some solid Direct Response thinking and execution across Direct Mail and possibly some DRTV. 50 – 70 Million though usually means brand campaign and given the marketing purse at ATT they’ll be working pretty hard to go uphill. Let ATT establish the category (even though Vonage was first, ATT is a bigger brand to the masses) and they track where the Call Vantage adds are running and quickly move in with some targeted messaging.

ATT was able to book some time during the Olympics for Call Vantage… The budget for Vonage won’t be able to go head to head in that way. Be smart and focused. Get that aquisition cost per customer down!

Skype Me!

I used Skype for the first time today and thought it was pretty cool… I’d used Voice Chat apps before (iChat, AIM etc…) but was wondering what the big deal with Skype really was until just now when I read a post from Dan Gilmore who was commenting on the FCC’s declaration and vote to tap VOIP lines like my Vonage line as they can with landlines…

This is a stunningly bad decision, and it is going to take us down a road we’ve already traveled.

It ignores reality. Consider Skype, which encrypts calls from end to end. It runs on peer-to-peer networks. In other words, law enforcement can’t eavesdrop — because VOIP is, for all practical purposes, a software application.

Unless we have new laws banning the private use of strong encryption, the FCC/FBI alliance here just means the bad guys will move their communications — if they haven’t already — to services that can’t be tapped. Then, only average folks will be monitored. [Dan Gillmor’s eJournal]

So obviously I don’t like the FCC decision (perhaps not so obvious to you new visitor), but the capability to encrypt my discussion through a P2P network is pretty slick and though I had read that when I first learned of Skype it was lost in time as I waited for a Mac version…. still waiting on the Mac version, but the PC version is here now and works quite well. Makes me think that it might make a better choice now than a softphone from anyone else especially given the encryption angle.

Vonage activated

I picked up a Vonage box this weekend and hooked up a cordless phone for my new home office connection. So far I am very pleased with how the call quality is as well as how slick the interface is to adjust your account as you like. I love getting emails about voicemails and really enjoy being able to seee all my call details, which makes it quite handy for returning calls or just keeping track of your time. Time will tell on this as a service, but I could definitley see switching our home phone number over as well. We have more than enough bandwidth to handle more than one line…

Tim Bray Gets VoIP

Just reading ongoing and Tim Bray’s experience with Vonage…. sounds good even with a hiccup or two. I am still considering VOIP — keep thinking Vonage is the way to go and perhaps I won’t have the hook-up issue he had with DSL with my cable connection….

It occurs to me that when someone on a cellphone calls my AccessLine and it gets routed to the Vonage and we have a talk, there is a lot of technology sloshing around, and the proportion of it that I understand is soberingly small. It is just painfully obvious that this is the future. [ongoing]


I’ve been thinking about switching our home phone number over to one of the VOIP services… We received a Direct Mail piece today from AT&T which is selling a discounted rate of $19.99/mo for 6 months but then switches back to the regular rate of $39.99/mo. Vonage lowered their unlimited package today to $29.99 which is pretty nice including the hardware.

Our current provider is Verizon and their unlimited package is $59.99 for traditional service, though each month after the tariffs and fees is more like $85. Saving money is a good thing, but I am actually more drawn to the tech aspects of the service more than the price. I like the idea of being able to listening to voicemail online, getting them either in my email (ATT) or links to the website (Vonage).

They both seem good as far as features and options with the service, though the possibility of also using a software SIP phone on my laptop is drawing me more to Vonage. ATT does have a cool privacy feature which I can’t find on Vonage, which would let you set your phone to silent, except for urgent or desired calls. This would be great for when Hannah is taking a nap…

I also wonder what we might miss if we switch… when we had ATT before Verizon, their voicemail notification did not work without their caller-ID box which was annoying and was no where as simple as the tone you hear when you pick up the phone with the local guys. Our apartment building uses the phone line for front desk to apartment intercom, so we can be notified of deliveries and visitors — it is unlikely if at possible that VOIP would work with this since it is not on the phone lines.

I’m still torn on which to choose at the moment… have to think more about this before just jumping in.

Palm adds VoIP, more to Tungsten C


First and foremost, VLI is introducing Gphone for Palm handhelds to enable VoIP for Palm Tungsten C handheld users. Gphone is a VoIP (Voice-over-IP) application available for several platforms that will allow users to place phone calls to any other Gphone-using Tungsten C, Pocket PC, or desktop system, or even over the public telephone network. Gphone also integrates into existing infrastructures to allow for automatic call forwarding to the handheld, and lets users within the same company call each other over the company network without any telephone costs at all.