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May 11th, 2008


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01:23 pm - Phone service query: Vonage
Has anyone tried Vonage for their home phone service? After seeing an ad amidst tivoing through a commercial break, I looking into it, and $15.00/month for 500 outgoing minutes + unlimited incoming calls nationwide for a landline phone sounds exceptionally good. So, are there any pitfalls to worry about - service interuptions, hidden charges...?
Current Mood: curiouscurious

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From:tlttlotd
Date:May 11th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I don't know anything about the outage track record of Vonage though it might be a good idea to scan this Vonage forum (note: not an official Vonage website) or DSL Reports to see what people have to say.

As for VoIP in general, one of the biggest factors to take into consideration is your upload bandwidth - normally broadband service is asymmetric (slanted in the favor of downloading rather than uploading). Too little upload bandwidth can cause problems. If you use cable, network congestion on your particular network segment (cable shares bandwidth with a particular segment, in the same manner as an Ethernet hub). If you use a home office firewall/router (like the one I gave you about a year ago, if memory serves), you'll probably want to turn on Quality of Service functionality to prioritize outgoing bandwidth to keep your call from breaking up.

I suggest asking
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<lj-user="hasufin">') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

I don't know anything about the outage track record of Vonage though it might be a good idea to scan <a href="http://www.vonage-forum.com/">this Vonage forum</a> (note: not an official Vonage website) or <a href="http://www.dslreports.com/">DSL Reports</a> to see what people have to say.

As for VoIP in general, one of the biggest factors to take into consideration is your upload bandwidth - normally broadband service is asymmetric (slanted in the favor of downloading rather than uploading). Too little upload bandwidth can cause problems. If you use cable, network congestion on your particular network segment (cable shares bandwidth with a particular segment, in the same manner as an Ethernet hub). If you use a home office firewall/router (like the one I gave you about a year ago, if memory serves), you'll probably want to turn on Quality of Service functionality to prioritize outgoing bandwidth to keep your call from breaking up.

I suggest asking <lj-user="hasufin"> for more information. When we worked at Sunrocket, he worked with customers while I worked on the back-end of the VoIP infrastructure, so he'd be of more assistance than I would. We have very different views of the technology.
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From:cusm
Date:May 11th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
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I've been using it for about 6 months now. Cheapest way I can both talk to the UK unlimited and run a second line for FAX, both of which are things I absolutely require. Occasionally the FAX has trouble with line noise, I suspect largely due to the cable modem being the spotty oversubscribed service that its always been. But it has overall been well worth it, and has saved me a ton of money over any other solution I've looked at.
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From:alephnul
Date:May 11th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)

Hezbollah fiber optic network

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Apropos very little, have you been following the recent flare-up in Lebanon? Did you notice that the fighting was sparked by the governments demand that Hezbollah dismantle the extension of its fiber optic phone network that it had built into the Beirut Airport? I didn't even realize that Hezbollah had a private fiber optic phone network (apparently, they planned ahead for the war with Israel, and didn't want to rely on jam-able cell phone networks). I just ran across this, and it was definitely a future shock moment.
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From:heron61
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)

Re: Hezbollah fiber optic network

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I heard about the fighting, but not the reason. Dear gods, that's a whole lot like something I could see in an early 90s novel by Gibson or John Shirley.
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From:xuenay
Date:May 11th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
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Curious. I didn't think one as neophilic as you would have any use for a landline phone anymore. (Excluding elder relatives, I can't think of any friend of mine who I'd know to have one.)
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From:heron61
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC)
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I'm also moderately cheap wrt continuing costs, and the absolute minimum cost for a non-prepaid mobile phone in the US is $30/month. Also, since I'm living with 2 other people, the landline can be split, while a mobile cannot (at least not effectively). In addition, from what I've heard, you are living in a nation with considerably better mobile service than the US. Also, the sound quality on most mobile phones is fairly bad.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)
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You may find it interesting that some VoIP services (not Vonage, it's worth pointing out) use the exact same voice encoding systems as GSM mobile phones.

And the audio quality is pretty bad.
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From:hasufin
Date:May 11th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
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I can't speak about vonage in particular, but I can tell you a great deal about VoIP. As with most matters, some problems are obvious, some are not:

1) Your voice quality will be MASSIVELY dependent on the quality of your internet connection. It's a bit too complicated to give yout he full rundown on LJ. If you'd like, use the MySpeed VoIP test. Post your results and I'll tell you if I think you can handle VoIP or not.

2) The ATA (the device Vonage will have you hook into your internet connection does not provide a regular phone line. This means...
a) You won't be able to use as many phones as you could through PSTN. Usually this means you can only have two or three phones, instead of the ten allowed with standard service.

b) Faxing will not work reliably. Though I'm told that for an extra fee Vonage offers a service in which faxing will work. You'll need a T.38-capable fax machine for that, though (don't worry, almost all new machines are).

c) Modems will not work. I do not know of any service which gets around this one.

d) Alarm systems usually won't work. I've heard rumor that Vonage has partnered with some alarm services, but you'll have to check locally.


3) Since you're reliant on an ATA for phone service over your internet connection, phone service will be down if you should lose power or internet connection. This is a "Well, duh" but still you ought to remember it.

4) The FCC requires that all VoIP subscribers have E911 service. However, they are usually small fly-by-night E911 providers and sometimes don't work. If you do get Vonage, be sure to make a test call and confirm that the 911 operator is in the right area AND have your address and phone number.

5) Some toll-free numbers will not work. This is because many toll-free numbers, especially those used by utilities, are local toll-free numbers and only accept calls from certain regions. Unless Vonage has a switch in your area (and is routing correctly), your calls will show as coming from New Jersey, and local toll-free numbers will reject it, or in some cases it will just get routed incorrectly. For example, Poison Control always ended up going to New York. Go figure.

6) Expect very poor response from the company. VoIP is a fringe market, and they're always looking to cut costs. Most companies, including Vonage, outsource their support to the lowest bidder. International calls will also suck badly. You'll likely run into other issues as well.



So, all that said - VoIP offers a truly impressive set of features at a very comparable price. Most customers have a truly wonderful experience with VoIP, and odds are you'll like it. Me, I was always highly amused by my ability to redirect telemarketers to phone sex lines.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
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The FCC requires that all VoIP subscribers have E911 service. However, they are usually small fly-by-night E911 providers and sometimes don't work.

I used to work for a small "fly-by-night E911 provider", so I really get a kick out of this reply.

Actually, ALL E911 service to the VoIP sphere is provided via Intrado, a company that does E911 service for mobile phones. There is only one or two companies reselling Intrado service: pretty much every other VoIP provider that is providing E911 service gets it directly from Intrado.

The limitation of E911 can be summed up thusly: if you move your phone, you have to update the database.. and that can take 24 to 36 hours before it bubbles up to the E911 database the public safety people use.

On other notes, your point 2a is fixable with additional hardware. Technically, you aren't supposed to plug more than 5 phones into a telco landline, either.

On point 5, this problem has been largely corrected on the back-end: since most VoIP providers are now just reselling service from one of the major CLECs (like XO and Level 3), it is now possible to do proper routing of 800 number calls. Even my two-bit VoIP provider I use (a local one-man shop here in Portland) can route 99% of all 800# calls properly.

On point 6: It is best to describe customer service at just about all VoIP providers as "do-it-yourself," granted. That said, I've actually heard good things about Vonage's customer service lately.
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From:hasufin
Date:May 12th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)
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2a) Sure, it's fixable with a REN extender - but I've never heard of one on the market for a reasonable price (granted, definitions of reasonable vary). More easily, one could simply use phones which are primarily powered by wall outlets rather than the phone line itself; most cordless phones consume 0.1-0.3 of the REN, instead of the whopping 1-3 of corded phones. But then, that opens up a whole other world of QOS issues. The best thing to do is simply accept that ATAs are really only designed to handle one or two phones.

4) Oddly, I'd never heard of Intrado. SunRocket used a varied of E911 carriers. Possibly they were resellers for Intrado; I never delved deeper into it. Our biggest problem was that they would sometimes just plain not work - that the 911 calls would simply not get routed. As someone in the NOC, where failed 911 calls would end up ringing, this did not fill me with warm fuzzies.
Of course, the basic advise holds true of ANY phone service - check 911 before relying on it.

5) It depends on the company, the area, routing agreements, and switch configurations. One common misapprehension is that an outgoing call will take the same route as an incoming call. This is, of course, very far from the truth. Simply put, it's goign to vary. Because VoIP providers are set up in a very different fashion from PSTN, they're more likely to run into Stupid Routing Tricks. Sometimes these are fixable, sometimes not. I would point, however, that a small local VoIP provider is MUCH less likely to have issues than a nationwide one, especially regarding local toll-free numbers.

6) I've heard good, I've heard bad. I'm sure Vonage has some really great techs working for them, but they neither have the means nor the will to maintain a high level of technical support.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
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SunRocket used Intrado almost exclusively. There were a couple of small markets where SunRocket had direct connections, but all of that is irrelevant because SunRocket imploded.

There really is only two companies doing E911 service for resale: Intrado is one of them (I think Verizon is the other, if I recall correctly). Everybody else in the business is buying one or the other... or, alternately, making their own connections to PSAPs (which is a royal pain in the posterior, as I found out working at the aforementioned "fly-by-night" E911 provider when we tried to connect to Portland's Metro-operated PSAP).

As to issue 5: Actually, a small VoIP provider is typically more likely to do "weird shit" in routing calls than a bigger one. A bigger one is likely to have "facilities" and do proper SS7 lookups, where a small one is just going to route based upon a simple lookup table, likely just routing it the cheapest route possible. However, XO and Level 3 both now offer a "facilities-sensitive" 800 call routing, where if you drop the call to them with the ANI/CLID set to a number that can be queried by SS7, they will do a proper TCAP dip and route the call accordingly, "best effort."

Where I've seen the break is on the other end: where small rinky-dink CLECs don't update their phone number databases often, and new prefixes (which are more likely to be assigned to VoIP subscribers) aren't in their incoming translation tables, so they don't know that 971-234 (as an example) is indeed a Portland number.
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From:hasufin
Date:May 12th, 2008 01:41 pm (UTC)
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Maybe they changed in the 7 months after I left the company and before they imploded, but during the time I worked there, never once was Intrado mentioned. I'd have to check my notes (which would involve an archaeological expedition) to see what was used, but it Intrado wasn't it.


For the routing, it depends. Everyone has problems of some flavor or another. I say that small, and more importantly local VoIP companies aren't as likely to have problem with local toll-free numbers because their customers are all in the same area as their switch. THe local toll-free issue comes up when you've got, say, a customer in Florida making a call which hits the PSTN from the provider's switch in Virginia - the toll-free carrier says basically "This number only takes calls from Florida. You're coming from Virginia. I don't think so!". If you're in Seattle, and your provider's switch is also in Seattle, that doesn't happen. Also, two years ago neither XO nor L3 offered a service such as you describe; woulda been nice but I'm sure a pain in the ass to configure at the border router.

Oooh. I bet that would be really vexing. Only saw that happen once - PacWest managed to lose an entire prefix, then proceeded to spend a week claiming that 20+ carriers were all routing calls wrong rather than admit that, hey, it might be a PacWest issue.

The worst ones I had t deal with were when the call routing (or gods forbid QOS) would be pooched by some intermediary carrier. Because SunRocket was always trying to cut costs by finding the cheapest possible routes, just like every other provider. And while we had a business relationship and thus could make service requests to the next hop carrier, we had no business relationship with Big Bub's VoIP service and Radiator Repair, so if that was where a problem happened, there was jack-all we could do.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
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You're right: in going through my notes, it was TCS (who I mistakenly called "Verizon").

As to the 800 # question, I think you might be confusing facilities-based providers with non-facilities providers. Most small VoIP providers are not facilities-based: the vast majority of them (including the two-bit operation I worked for) own a softswitch and MAYBE a PRI to their LEC for backup, but don't actually own any facilities. Most of these providers are just buying DIDs from a place like L3 or XO, delivered on VoIP, and just handling the signaling.

In our case, we had all kinds of funky-chicken routes. We had grey-market routes to much of the third world, we had some weird Canadian company we were doing business with that gave us .25 cents to Canadian destinations (that's right, 1/4 of a cent). We had three PRIs landing in an office in Anchorage, AK so we could route calls cheaply to Alaska.

800# calls? For the first six months we were in operation, we didn't even have any real 800# service. It wasn't until I discovered that 800# calls weren't getting routed by whomever we were sending them to (I think it was a CLEC in LA that was basically reselling Level 3 DIDs to us) that I had to shoehorn an Asterisk server to at least drop 800# calls onto e164.org and/or SIPBroker. God, our switch sucked.

My favorite still remains the rinky-dink telco in Arkansas that was specifically screwing with our packets. We were a "white-box reseller", and one of our resellers was aggressive in this one small town. So, the telephone company specifically started filtering packets to our SIP switch.

Bastages.
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From:hasufin
Date:May 12th, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, TCS sounds MUCH more familiar. I seem to recall they weren't our sole provider, but they were the ones in the Northwest region. I didn't like having to work with them. It was painful.


Ah, that would indeed make a difference. SunRocket, while feeling very much like a hacked-together mess, was pretty large as VoIP companies go, and we were always facilities-based. Which is a viable comparison to Vonage, which has a similar architecture, but not so much to non-facilities providers. It seems there were quite a few problems we sidestepped!

International calls... gods. I have an abiding hatred of Hyderabad. I've never been there, but I hate that city.

I thin I'm going to keep that PacWest debacle as the worst; we had 50-odd customers who couldn't receive calls, and basically PacWest jsut kept claiing it wasn't their problem. Until, after a week, one of their own engineers noticed and fixed the problems.
But then, that was always the modus operandi for PacWest (also for ChoiceOne): problem? No, no, no problem. We have tested this extensively, we test through more than 50 other carriers. We are SURE this works fine. The problem must be on your end."
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From:erelin
Date:May 12th, 2008 05:38 am (UTC)
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I use Vonage for SRB Games. On Cable Internet (with my mother downstairs playing FFXI on the same line and with some reception issues due to the fact that I needed the plug-in to be a little far from where I need to be making phone calls, so I have a wireless handset) I get good reception. Sometimes when I am making an outgoing call I can tell that it doesn't go through- but I think that is more the handset than the Vonage. Overall I am pleased and couldn't do my business (reliant on the free outgoing calls plan) any other way.

The main house's landline is also VOIP through Comcast. So we tax our connection a bit. To my knowledge, there has never been any problems with that line, even when I am on my phone as well.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:48 pm (UTC)
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It's worth pointing out that VoIP through a cable company is not the same as the service Vonage provides.

When you buy "cable phone" service, it is being carried across a separate logical network from your data traffic that has priority across the cable network. You can peg your cable internet connection with BitTorrent, and your Comcast phone line will continue to work just fine.

Vonage has to compete with everything else on your cable modem connection equally, so on a moderately loaded net connection things can get pretty ugly fast.
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From:feedle
Date:May 12th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
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Just to add to the rest of the comments:

There are a few "hidden charges", just like with any other phone service. Vonage does charge the city's telecom utility tax, and I think there's also now a couple of federal-related "fees" as well.

Also, last I checked (which was admittedly some time ago) they didn't have any 503 "Portland" numbers: they were all 971. Not a big deal, but some people still haven't wrapped their head around the fact that Portland does, indeed, have another area code.

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