BroadVoice provides a softphone client via Windows Messenger. If you want, you can make and receive calls on your PC instead of your phone. With free softphones such as Skype available for download, we don't see any reason to spend the extra money for this premium feature. Business users might, however, want to spend the extra few dollars per month for the Music-on-Hold option, which can make your small business seem larger than it is.
BroadVoice has been designed to work with home alarm systems (you simply connect your alarm system to the phone adapter), but the company recommends keeping a landline for alarm and 911 services. These, of course, remain the two most significant hurdles that VoIP services must surmount if the industry hopes to supplant POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) in the long run.We judge a VoIP service's performance on how calls sound under baseline conditions, as well as during data uploads and data downloads. The overall weighted average is based on calls made under these three conditions. Baseline conditions are given the highest weight of 66 percent; audio quality during data uploads and data downloads each factor 17 percent of the weightings. The scale for the voice-quality ratings is from 0 to 10.0, with a perfect score of 10.0 equaling our reference analog connection.
(Higher scores are better)
|Overall weighted average||All PCs off||During download||During upload|
Under baseline conditions, BroadVoice maintains nearly the same audio quality you would expect from a regular analog (landline) telephone connection. (We define baseline quality as the audio quality of the VoIP service when the telephone adapter (TA) is the only device sending and receiving substantial amounts of data over the local network on our tests. During these tests the only other devices permitted to transmit and receive network traffic are the broadband modem and router.) This shouldn't come as a surprise, however, as nearly all of the VoIP services we've tested easily accomplish this feat.
And like all of the other VoIP services tested, BroadVoice exhibits some very faint background noise, which in the case of BroadVoice, sounded like a weak "scratching" noise. In our testing, we noticed this background noise only on the VoIP side of the call; users on the other end of the call did not hear the noise under normal circumstances. It's possible that some users might not even notice the noise, and it did not adversely affect our ability to make or receive calls.
We tested BroadVoice with a Sipura SPA-1001 TA (telephone adapter), which we connected to an Ethernet port on our router. This is the most common connection scenario we saw with the TAs that came with the VoIP service subscriptions. (Some services instruct you to place the TA before your router on your home network, that is, between the modem and router.)
Unfortunately, most home and small-business broadband connections don't have enough upstream throughput to support both voice and data packets. The result is that under those circumstances when you are sending large amounts of data from your PC, such as uploading photographs to an online photo-finishing service, the voice quality of your VoIP call will suffer. Broadband downstream throughput is usually high enough to allow a VoIP user to hear the person on the other end of the call just fine, but this person will have great difficulty understanding the VoIP user. As was the case with BroadVoice during data uploads from our PC, the people on the other end of calls reported that our words were breaking up so much that they could barely understand us. Under these circumstances, it is not possible to have an intelligible conversation. Interestingly, while we were also uploading files, callers on the other end of the line reported hearing some faint background noise. Depending on how frequently you upload files from your computer, however, these might not be significant issues for you.
We noticed a drop in both upstream (22 percent) and downstream (18 percent) Internet data throughput speeds from our test computer while VoIP calls were taking place. We experienced similar throughput losses with nearly all the VoIP services we tested. This drop in data throughput indicates that the SPA-1001 TA is at least somewhat successful in giving priority to the voice-data packets, in an attempt to minimize the loss of audio quality--however, not quite good enough so that you can carry on a phone conversation while simultaneously uploading files.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs manager, Daniel A. Begun.
Find out more about how we test VoIP.Two out of our three calls to the BroadVoice technical-support line were handled immediately, courteously, and efficiently. The third landed us in a voicemailbox; our call was returned five hours later. Phone support is available 24/7 as a toll call and also through fax or e-mail. The support page on the BroadVoice Web site offers installation instructions and a long list of FAQs that provide solutions to many common problems.
BroadVoice also offers a 30-day warranty on its telephone adapter and a 30-day money-back guarantee if you cancel the service within 30 days of activation, unless you've used it for more than 500 minutes.
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