A few months ago we switched at home to Vonage VOIP, and we’re loving it. Even without dumping our phone line, we’re still saving money, over $250 a year before we even make a call!

Why We Switched
Our local phone service and DSL is provided by Verizon, and long distance was provided by AT&T. What got me initially looking at VOIP was AT&T telling me they were raising the monthly long distance fee by a dollar. Then I hear that Verizon were going to increase their charges too, so I took a closer look at the phone bills. Full details are later on, but before we even make any calls, we save $23.29 per month! Once we start calling the UK, we save 9c/min over the old way. If we use less than 500 minutes per month within the US/Canada, we don’t pay anything extra for other calls.

Unlike many VOIP customers, I did not cut our land line entirely. I needed to leave it because our DSL requires it, plus our alarm system and our HDTivo would require modifications. This also allowed us to try VOIP out without changing over our phone number to the new system, to reduce the risk.

Setup
Installation was hell: we ordered direct from Vonage and they sent a free Linksys RT31P2 box. The default IP address for this box was 192.168. 15.1, which meant it was invisible on our home network (which uses 192.168.1.x addressing). I’ll spare you the details, but it took many frustrating hours, and I do have a reasonable understanding of TCP/IP. If you don’t have a home network, but just plug your PC into your modem/cable box then I think everything will work out-of-the-box.

Anyway once it was installed, the box contacted Vonage and set itself up – I think it upgrades its own firmware as well at this point. I plugged a phone into the box and bam – I was in business. My original idea was to wire the Vonage phone line into the line 2 wiring in my house, but when I popped open a phone jack I discovered I didn’t have any line 2 wiring at all! Instead I connected the Vonage box as Line 1 to my cordless base-station, and the old phone line as Line 2. The house wiring was unchanged, so the alarm and the TiVo stay happy.

If you can dump your landline, then not only will you save more money ($20 in my case), but you can switch your old number onto your Vonage line. As I said, this wasn’t an option for me, instead I changed the outgoing message on the landline’s voicemail to tell everyone to use the new number: I left this going for a couple of months before canceling most of my landline features.

In Use
We can’t detect any difference in use with Vonage vs the landline. Our DSL is pretty slow (256k/1.5M, minimum is 90kbps up) but this hasn’t impacted the call quality that we can tell. When you call out on the Vonage line, callers with caller ID will see your number, but they won’t see your name, and there is nothing you can do about it: it’s a weird design feature I guess. Feature-wise you get everything your phone company has the cheek to charge you extra for: caller ID, voicemail, call waiting etc. You also get new features, like checking your voicemail via their web site, and have the option of additional numbers and lines for fax, for example. If you get another number you can get one in a different area code, or even a different county: I could get a UK number for example which would make it very cheap for my relatives to call me, as it wouldn’t be an international call for them. (I chose not to as the volume isn’t worth it for us).

Issues
Apart from the hellish install, we haven’t had any problems. We had one day when we couldn't retrieve our voicemail via the phone, so we listened to it via the web site instead. Billing is electronic and automatic (via a credit card) which is very convenient. If you search around, there are issues with TiVos that cannot use the internet (such as my HDTiVo) and alarms may need modification: by keeping the landline I avoided those. There is a lot of debate about 911 issues over VOIP: it doesn’t effect us because we still have the landline, plus two cellphones we can use to dial 911 if the Vonage one can’t handle it (or the power or DSL is down).

How We Save $23.29 Every Month
Before
Verizon: Local package $25.95 + Interstate subscriber line $6.50 + tax $4.97 + voicemail $6.95 = $44.37
AT&T: One Rate Off Peak II $4.95 + International plan $3.00 + taxes $7.47 = $15.42
Total before: $59.79
Includes unlimited local calls, UK for 13c/min, long distance for more than that!

After
Verizon: Line + basic plan $9.68 + Interstate subscribe line $6.50 + taxes $3.31 = $19.49
Vonage: $14.99 + $2.02 taxes = $17.01
Total after: $36.50
Includes 500 mins US/Canada calling per month, which is plenty for us (the $25 plan allows unlimited calling). We can call the UK for 2c/min. TiVo using the landline for local calls is 1.5c/min.