Scott Hanselman

Vonage vs. AT&T CallVantage

June 7, '04 Comments [21] Posted in Musings
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I've been seriously considering moving my home phone service over to Vonage, which will run all my phone calls as Voice over IP (VoIP). 

However, today an ad showed up in the mail for AT&T CallVantage Service, which appears to be the EXACT SAME THING.  It's $19.99 for the first 6 months, then $39.99 a month - which is more than the $30 I spend now.

Vonage is $30 a month with unlimited long distance.  Vonage is also apparently pissed off and suing AT&T as Vonage and "Vantage" share too many letters.

I have a few questions for you, dear reader:

  • Is this the flat-out end of the traditional phone company?
  • Are any of you using Vonage or CallVantage and what are your impressions?
  • Have you plugged the Analog Adapter BACK into your home phone jack to spread the service throughout the house on the existing copper?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Monday, June 07, 2004 12:33:13 AM UTC
I use Vonage on the 14.95 plan which is perfect for me. Without going through the whole sales pitch on VOIP, I've been quite happy with my service.

I've recommended it to friends and family successfully. My sister's family used to spend $200 a month calling relatives in California, now just $29.95. I had wired her through the jacks in the house and it worked great for around 3-4 months and then the ATA died (the VOIP box). She got a new one and an electrician discovered there were some seriously bad/old wiring in the house. I’d say this was an isolated case of bad internal wiring more than anything else.
Monday, June 07, 2004 1:25:11 AM UTC
I'm intrigued. How long have you been using Vonage Scott? I see all the "free this", "free that" on their website, but for some reason I'm having a hard time varifying whether it is too good to be true or not. What do you use for Internet? Cable?
Monday, June 07, 2004 1:29:25 AM UTC
Nevermind, I see the whole "connect to your broadband" thing. Ignore my question :).
Monday, June 07, 2004 1:38:35 AM UTC
I got CallVantage hooked up a few weeks ago, and it works well. I don't know anything about Vonage. The CallVantage literature says they don't support hooking up the phones through your existing phone lines, but I think that's just because they don't want to mess with the support nightmare that would lead to. I just unhooked the land line from the outside of the house and plugged in the TA box (which is a D-Link VoIP router with a pretty crappy interface) to a phone jack and it works great on all my phones. They seem pretty receptive of feedback as well. I've seen a few features appear after sending them some feedback.
Monday, June 07, 2004 2:08:08 AM UTC
The only thing I don't like about VOIP is the 3-4 second pause before the party you're calling hears your "Hello".
Monday, June 07, 2004 3:47:27 AM UTC
I have Vonage up here in Canada as well. I've also installed a number of them in other places as well. Since you're able to have multiple phone numbers in multiple area codes, we set up a box for a company down in Costa Rica that was primarily staffed with Canadians from Toronto and Vancouver. By putting a box down there with local phone numbers for both cities, the ex-pats loved ones can call a local number and reach the guys down there.

The features I love about Vonage are the simultaneous calling - when you call my Vonage number, it rings in my office (the VOIP line) and on my cell phone at the same time. I can answer either one. And if I don't answer, you can leave a voice mail and the voice mail appears as a WAV file in my email inbox. Who checks voice mail any more?

I have distributed Vonage through my household wiring, but I still have an analog line as well - DSL requires it, and Vonage can be set up so that if the VOIP box is offline, all calls go to the analog line automatically.
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:36:44 AM UTC
Well, since I already have Vonage hardware and service, you can drop by my office some day [if you can find the time to visit the common-folk ;)] and I can show you how the softphone works. If you let me know, I'll also be glad to let you borrow the network hardware and plug it in at your place for a night or two and give it a try so you can see if you like it or not. I can live without it for 24 to 48 hours, I imagine.

I am happy with it so far - experienced a few minor IP phone glitches until I reconfigured my router, but that's all common and fairly well documented. I can say that $29.95 a month for basically unlimited phone service beats the hell out of anything Quest can do.

There is one thing that I count as a down-side: While you can (and IMHO should) register your number to be correlated with a regional 911 center (whereby emergency calls from your phone will be routed to the closest dispatch center by Vonage), the emergency 911 operators will not automatically get detailed information about where you are located - things like name, address, etc. Just FYI. I think it's an important thing for people to be aware of up front. The other important thing to understand is that if you Internet service goes out (service interruption at the cable provide - we know that never happens - or power outage) so does your phone service. One nice thing about standard wired phone service is the ability to talk on the phone regardless of the availability of any other utility.

I recently disconnected my Quest line at the junction box and plugged the Vonage unit in to the lines, and it distributed just fine. My wires are set up in a loop fashion. I have not yet set it up permanently that way (I have yet to disconnect my wired phone service).
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:38:21 AM UTC
I use Packet8x8, a Vonage competitor, over my RoadRunner cable modem. Cheaper than Vonage ($20/mo unlimited to US/CA), no serious problems other than the occassional blip. Conversations no worse than a cell phone, and usually much better. No 911 service, but them's the breaks, I do know the various normal emergency numbers and/or can always use the cell phones.
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:49:28 AM UTC
Hm...Vonage does have 911, and this "SoftPhone" thing is cool, as I could talk to the wife from a hotel for free...
Scott Hanselman
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:59:54 AM UTC
My main problem with VoIP is that it won't work during a power outage. If I have to keep my POTS line for emergencies, then VoIP is too expensive.
Monday, June 07, 2004 5:00:49 AM UTC
I was considering the local cable company's VOIP offer ($39.99 unlimited long distance/caller id/call waiting), but the part about losing your phone in a power outage was a deal breaker. I always keep an old corded phone connected in my house, because the cordless phones don't work during the few times a year when power gets knocked out by a nasty storm. I hate the idea of being caught up in one of those nasties, without any contact with the outside world.
Monday, June 07, 2004 5:07:30 AM UTC
Interesting, but what about this: I have a HUGE UPS that runs both my computers and my wiring closet in a power outage. Anyone else run with a UPS?
Scott Hanselman
Monday, June 07, 2004 5:48:41 AM UTC
1.) I don't believe this will be the end of traditional phone lines. Why? My parents for example. They live a good 35 miles from the nearest city. They don't have broadband options (except one way satellite).

2.) This could be included in #1 above. I use Vonage. The main reason is because for $5 a month, I get a virtual phone number in a different area code. So I bought two virtual phone numbers in my parents area code and one for my in-laws area code. This way they can call that number which will get routed to me, and they pay no long distance charges. When I call them, I get unlimited anyway.

My biggest nit is call quality. It is as good as a cell phone on a good day. It is not nearly as clear as good old fashion copper for some reason. But algorithms will get better.

3.) I have not plugged the adapter into my copper. I use one of those one base station - 4 handset deals. That covers what I need.
Monday, June 07, 2004 5:54:08 AM UTC
Yep - I run my broadband over fixed wireless (antenna on the roof) and both the wireless and the IP phone (Vonage) stuff runs off that UPS. Mine battery's not huge, but is big enough to run the wireless equipment, router and phone for quite awhile if needed. I'd probably be using a laptop on batteries in that case, anyhow (and would still be wireless). In fact, it's really the internet equipment and wireless router that needs to stay up - the phone for me can be the softphone on the laptop, no actual need to keep the VOIP harware running in that case.

I'll bring the Vonage equipment to work with me Monday - you can stop in and borrow it overnight if you want to. Plug it into your battery at home and kill the mail panel breaker as a test or something. :)
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:13:20 PM UTC
Yes, I'm using Vonage.

It's great. Some little blips here, and there, but for the most part their customer service has been adequate. I have a phone/data panel in my garage w/ cable modem in from comcast, that feeds a wireless router, 1 wired ethernet port runs off that to another wireless router for another portion of my house, and the vonage ata.

The Vonage ata is then plugged into a phone jack that feeds all the other jacks in the house (just make sure to disconnect the street POTS feed, as the low voltage that their lines carry can damage the vonage equipment.) This literally took like 30 seconds at the box outside my house.

Check out the little voicemail alert utility I've developed (spare time coding... it's works well, but it's a work in progress! ) www.johnbatdorf.net/software.aspx it's a tray utility that checks a mail server you designate for voicemail notification emails from vonage. When you get a message you're alerted in the tray. You can also have my application forward a message to another email address (like a blackberry or email capable cellphone) the tray app interfaces w/ a webservice running on johnbatdorf.net.

I love vonage. I have the 24.99 a month service which includes 8 hours of LD, which we've never really gone over... but I may upgrade to the 29.99 amount just because of the low cost.

I have not run w/ a ups, but don't see that being a problem. Cell phones being my (somewhat) redundant system to the vonage service.
Monday, June 07, 2004 4:36:00 PM UTC
Use it love it. I do have the UPS option but found that my cable modem service dies since the distribution amplifiers in the neighboorhood die when power goes out...
Chris Kinsman
Monday, June 07, 2004 7:51:47 PM UTC
I tried Vonage a while back, and the quality was really bad. Maybe it's gotten better, but I thought Skype had much better quality. I also use a UPS, so I can stay on-line and completely productive for hours on end if the power goes out (I just switch over to the laptop, and the UPS keeps it running, and all my network gear).
Tuesday, June 08, 2004 2:21:02 AM UTC
I've been using Vonage since December and I think it's great. Call quality is superb. The people on the other end can't tell the diffrence and in my experience the voice quality is as good as regular phone service. The price is unbeatable. I've had no major service interiptions. My only nit was that the CallerID feature would stop working after a few days and I would have to reset the VoIP box to restore it. Even that seems to have been resolved.

It would be very hard/impossible to go back to regular phone service.

I recommend Vonage.

PS: When you sign up, Google for Vonage cuopons on the net and you can get a free month.

VonageFan
Tuesday, June 08, 2004 5:16:32 AM UTC
1. I don't think this is the end of the traditional phone company yet. The main reason is that it is still cost-prohibitive for VOIP providers to serve people outside of major metropolitan areas. I think this is about 30% of the United States???? Cell phone plans in these areas can also be quite expensive, leaving POTS as the only choice.

2. I have Vonage. I wrote a review over a year ago and it can be seen at http://www.vonage-forum.com/review3.html. It is a bit outdated, but I can say the service has only gotten better. A couple of the disadvantages are gone. The only comments I have gotten from people I have talked to is that the sound quality has gotten BETTER. The service has been awesome. I made the switch from dial-up to broadband and POTS to VOIP at the same time because the monthly cost of dial-up to fully-loaded POTS was more expensive than broadband plus Vonage.

3. I have not tried this.

Vonage still has a few small disadvantages, but I would strongly recommend it to anybody.
Devu Pandit
Tuesday, June 08, 2004 7:20:58 AM UTC
Vonage is great - we have a few of the ATA devices and also use the soft phone. There virtual numbers are really cool also - we use those to give clients local numbers and forward them as needed.

BTW - looks like you will be visiting us in October!

Dave
Wednesday, October 12, 2005 7:10:09 PM UTC
I just sign up with AT&T, got my first phone bill, and now thinging to switch to Vonage.
I signed up for $19.99 local plan. But, my bill is 19.99 + 7.34 (some additional services that I don't remember signing up for) + 10.19 (local+state+federal+user occupation tax and fee).

What the hack is AT&T thinking that I will be blind and happly give them more monthly fee than Qwest $35/month. Something big company has big empty head.

Anyway.
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Snow Aung
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.