At my apartment, I’m in the process of making the switch to VoIP rather than conventional telephone lines. I breifly tried Vonage, but then someone at work alerted to me to a more interesting service from VoicePulse which I signed up for and am currently running. A comparison of the various services is available here
Basically with IP phone services, there are a few general benefits:
- Service is cheaper. Typically a fixed price will get you unlimited local and regional, some amount of long distance, and virtually every “feature” a conventional phone service would charge you for (CallerID, 3-way calling, voicemail, distinctive rings, etc.). You can still use your regular phone, because they give you and adapter to put it’s calls over the Internet.
- Features conventional phones can’t offer. We haven’t really ventured into most of the cool stuff you can do with VoIP, but there are a few general perks available now. First, you can get a number in any area code you want. I didn’t use this option, but I can see how it might be useful for people who receive calls from people in another places and want them to make all local calls.
Second, you can get an e-mail alert of your voicemails, and optionally a .wav file of your voicemail sent to you in e-mail. Pretty neat, and was easier than me having to build a system to do the same thing.
A softphone is basically a computer program which lets your computer act as a phone. That may not sound great, but if you travel it becomes valuable. Wherever you have internet access, you have your home phone with you. You can answer your home phone across the country or overseas, and you can make phone calls on the cheap as if you were at home.
There are a few downsides also, namely:
- You need reliable internet service. If it drops out, you can’t make phone calls.
- You either need a UPS backup for your cable modem, or you can’t make phone calls when the power goes out (which these days might not be too uncommon anyhow, since many people have cordless phones which don’t work without power).
- Support for 911 is sketchy. Because you can go anywhere with your phone, the concept of your “local” emergency service doesn’t make much sense anymore. Vonage has done some work on getting this to work correctly, but Voicepulse hasn’t.
I’ve had good luck with VoicePulse so far. I’m going to give it a while longer before I totally drop having a regular phone though.