July 2014 Archives


The Verdict on Internet Phones

Different forms of telephone service are gaining acceptance and popularity. Here is an account of my experience with landline, Vonage, and cable telephone systems.

Unless you are very good at avoiding television, you have probably seen adverts for at least two new forms of telephone service recently, both of which compete with the traditional landline telephone service. Here is the background on how these services work and how they compare with the traditional phone line service.

Firstly, if you have cable television, you may have noticed a concerted effort mounted by your cable supplier to switch you to a cable phone line rather than the telephone company's landline. Many people make strenuous efforts to avoid advertising and the 'hard sell', but here is how such a deal works. When you sign up for a cable telephone, the cable company actually provides you with a box which allows you to use the cable company's hardware and cable to connect to the internet. Into this equipment you plug a special form of modem which allows your telephone to connect to the internet. Thereafter, when people call you, they are actually calling this modem, which converts the digital messages of the internet into the analog signals which are required by telephones. The cable company makes arrangements for you to retain your old landline telephone number and the people calling you will not notice any differences. Your telephone operates entirely normally, except that it will require your cable modem to be powered up and working correctly at all times, so that the telephone modem has access to the internet. The cable company now controls the infrastructure that connects you to the outside world, and that may give you some nice features, such as the ability to see caller IDs on your television screen when a call comes in, for example. Additionally, just as with the phone company, you will now have the opportunity to sign up for various calling plans that can provide you with cost effective telephone service.

One of the downsides of this system is that you will now have all your telecommunication eggs in one basket. If your cable breaks, you will have no television, internet, or telephone. You won't be able to call 911 using your 'landline' - actually you will no longer have a 'landline' or one that works at least. Fortunately, many families will now have a back up system in the wide proliferation of cell phones, so this may not be a concern.

You will probably want to assess the pros and cons of using a cable supplied telephone service on the basis of your knowledge of the reliability of your local cable company. If the company has a reputation for reliability and rapid turnaround when there are issues, then you will probably be delighted with such a system.

There is an alternative approach, which is to buy internet service from either your cable company or your telephone company and then buy internet telephone service from a supplier such as Vonage. In this case, Vonage will send you a modem with which to attach your telephone to the internet and provide a variety of services to you for a flat monthly fee. Vonage have a very nice web interface to your telephone account, where you can pick up voicemail messages, and check on the amount of use that the system is getting.

I have tried telephone services based on landlines, the cable system, and Vonage. My experience with Vonage and the cable company phone service has been very good. The Vonage service is somewhat less expensive, if you make an extremely large number of long distance phone calls. However, the sound quality with Vonage is not quite as good as the landline or cable company systems. The landline system is significantly more expensive, but provides the best sound quality. But, for me at least, the winner is the cable company service which provides good quality at a reasonable price. However, this puts our household into the grip of a telecommunications monopoly - which is never a good thing! The cable pricing is only the best if you go for a large bundle of cable services (for example, telephone, cable television channels, and internet access). Hopefully, the telephone companies will see that a shift in the market has occurred and will focus on delivering all of its services using DSL lines to inject some serious competition back into the market.

However, the overall verdict is that internet phones work very well. They are more cost effective than the traditional telephone service, the quality can be great, and you will almost certainly save money.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link