This is not a “Best Of” by any means. It’s simply an account of my own personal experiences with voice over options.
I’ve been enthralled with voice over options as they provide more and more for less over time and with competitive quality. Everyone has seen the transition away from the POTS lines to cellular. Why then do you want a VOIP line?
For the same reason you have multiple e-mail ID’s. You can have a different number for specific things (i.e. the “public home” number you get spam calls on, the “private work” number you do all your business from, the “personal filter” number for screening calls). Not to mention the vast array of features and functions you just can’t get from POTS or cellular without breaking the bank.
Here are what I have personal experiences with: AT&T CallVantage, Vonage, MagicJack, and Google Voice.
With all of these I consider my cell phone as part of my overall voice plan. Why? I try to never leave home without it.
Here are my experiences in a nutshell.
CallVantage – soon to be defunct. It used a dedicated router that had SIP protocol and limited router access/control. I was never happy with this option. I lived in an area with a limited bandwidth broadband provider with several pc’s on a home network. I found the SIP protocol never worked cleanly when cascaded behind another router and severely limited bandwidth when other routers were cascaded behind it. Network lay out and configs had to constantly be tinkered with to overcome issues (dropped calls, slow data response, etc.). And AT&T priced it at double Vonages prices. I could never use it for Fax service. Frankly, it’s tainted my thoughts of any VOIP with SIP required in the solution.
Vonage – http://www.vonage.com – Overall a really good experience. It uses a dedicated router that can be cascaded or used as a primary and has never negatively impacted quality. It has an industry standard of features and functions (call forward, simultaneous ring, conference calling, voice mail with forwarding, E911, Bandwidth saver to name a few) that come included in the flat rate per month with other features that can be purchased for small added fees. The flat rate fee is just that, flat rate. No nickel and diming you to death. They have several international locations covered at no cost or very low cost. The router I have has a second port that can be activated for an added monthly fee. I regularly used the Vonage line for faxing successfully and provided the audio quality that met my needs for a business line for the past seven years. I would recommend this service as a primary always on number.
MagicJack – http://www.magicjack.com – Inexpensive, functional, rudimentary. This solution works with a special USB fob or dongle. It’s cost first year is less than $40 and subsequent years is less than $20. I like this as a secondary number. It’s limitations make it impractical as a primary number. It has some basic features (call forwarding, voice mail, voicemail forwarding, E911) with little to be added on. International calling is available by paying in advance. I’ve used MagicJack as a backup for making calls and have been pleased, however it can’t be used without being plugged into a pc that is up and powered on AND you don’t want any heavy traffic happening on your pc (like antivirus updates, file transfers, heavy e-mail refresh, etc.). Using it with call forwarding to my cell seems entirely practical. I would recommend this (for now) as a secondary personal phone line.
Google Voice – Currently in beta and FREE – I’ve only just signed up for this, so more to come. My initial look is very optimistic although not likely as a primary number. The features and functions are pretty nice looking with the same look and feel as Gmail and a new feature called SMS texting. There are menu format challenges (pop menus that show up outside of the browser view without being moveable) but all of this I’m sure can be addressed with coding over time. By the way, did I mention the price is free? I intend to try this service more in the near future to really look at the functions.
Conclusion: If it weren’t for my need for a primary (always on) phone number to support my telecommute /virtual office I would use a strictly secondary VOIP number service with my cell phone and save $$ every month.