I just signed up with a new phone company called Vonage. The service is delivered over my Internet connection and lets me use my regular phone. When I here "internet telephony" I picture weird software, boom mikes plugged into the back of my computer and complicated set-up. This was about as far from that as you can get.
I signed up at the Vonage site about a week ago. Today, a box arrived at my house with a Cisco ATA 186, an analog telephone adapter. I plugged the ATA into my network, plugged a regular phone into the back and after a few blinking lights, made a phone call---no other configuration needed. The calls sounds great and seems to maintain in the face of heavy network downloads. I'll let you know later what my long term experience is.
Vonage has two calling plans for homes one with 500 minutes of long distance for $25/month and one with unlimited long distance for $40/month. Business accounts are slightly higher because they can. These plans come with every phone feature you can imagine, including call waiting, voice mail (with an email interface), call forwarding, caller ID, caller ID blocking, repeat dialing, and call transfer. A second line for FAX is an additional $10/month. There's a 911 feature as well--this has been a struggle for IP telephones so its a significant offering.
My account has a dashboard on the web where I can manage my voicemail, view call activity and usage logs (wondering who your teenagers are calling?), see billing information, and other housekeeping chores like managing account information. Here are a few unique features:
- Your choice of phone numbers from just about anywhere in the US - I chose a Utah number, but I could have gotten an New York number (or one from anywhere Vonage has service) and had it ring in Utah. You can have an existing number transfered or get a new number.
- Virtual phone number - multiple numbers from multiple locations ring in a single place. Want an office in Miami and LA? Done for $5 each.
- Disruption call forwarding - forward calls to a number in the event your Internet service is down.
- Quality degradation for bandwidth savings - you can chose to degrade the voice quality and save bandwidth.
Vonage is using dynamicsoft's Route Engine Platform to provide service out of two data centers in New Jersey. A California data center installation is planned. Interestingly, dynamicsoft is the vendor behind the SIP Protocol which is the basis for the SIMPLE messaging protocol. SIMPLE has vying with XMPP (Jabber) for use as a universal messaging protocol. Microsoft, AOL, and IBM has voiced support for SIMPLE, but XMPP has broad grassroots support. I frankly think that they're different enough that there's room for both. XMPP is a simple XML based messaging and presence protocol whereas SIMPLE is a more complicated P2P protocol capable of carrying multimedia content.