With our test account, we signed up for the adapter and received the BroadVoice Integrated Analog Telephone Adapter, which has a one-port router built in, allowing you to connect it directly to your broadband modem and then, via the LAN port, to your PC or network router. (BroadVoice offers another adapter that requires a router.) The adapter we received is among the smallest such devices we've tested--a bit smaller than a PDA--and sits flat on your table or desk. Having a small footprint is always convenient, of course.
As with all Voice over IP (VoIP) services, you'll probably want to use BroadVoice as part of your existing LAN, in which case you need only run an Ethernet cable from the adapter's WAN port to your broadband router. You can also connect the broadband modem directly to the adapter and from there into the router--the recommended method if voice quality matters more to you than installation time. (The quality is higher because voice packets take priority over data packets.)
Connecting the adapter to the router resulted in a setup time of less than 5 minutes, which included connecting the telephone handset and locating an empty receptacle for the adapter's power cord. Connecting directly to the modem took about 10 minutes, primarily because our D-Link router/access point required a restart in order to acquire the settings. One point to consider about installation: BroadVoice works only with cable or DSL service, not with satellite Internet. Nor does BroadVoice support AOL's broadband service.
As with other VoIP services, you manage your BroadVoice account from a set of Web-based configuration screens. BroadVoice's screens score mixed grades for usability, not because they're difficult to use, but because many seem unnecessary. For example, the Incoming Calls screen displays a long list of features that you can enable or disable, but you'll have to click through to a subsequent screen to change any of the settings. BroadVoice surely could have aggregated these toggle switches onto a single screen. Even the various call-forwarding options, which do require additional input, could have been merged onto one well-designed page with multiple data fields.
The Call Control page leads to similarly questionable screens. Clicking any of the three Flash options (Flash Call Hold, Flash Call Transfer, and Flash Three-Way Calling) takes you to a screen consisting of a description of the service, an OK button, and a statement telling you that you can't configure the feature.With BroadVoice, you can choose between three residential plans and one small-business plan. The $9.95-per-month Unlimited In-State plan provides unlimited in-state calls (for the state of your choice) and calls at 3.9 cents per minute to the rest of the United States and Canada. The $19.95 Unlimited World plan is a great deal. Similar to Lingo's $19.95 plan, it provides unlimited minutes in the States and 20 other countries. BroadVoice's plan includes a few more countries and, more importantly, BroadVoice service was a better performer in CNET Labs' tests. At $24.95, the Unlimited World Plus plan includes calls to 35 countries, from Argentina to New Zealand. Calls to other countries carry low per-minute rates, which is how most VoIP services charge for all international calls. The $29.95 Unlimited Business plan provides unlimited monthly minutes and two additional numbers. You're out of luck if you do business with international partners or clients; only calls to the United States and Canada are included.
Most VoIP services we've tested offer some semblance of 911 support, and Packet8 now boasts Enhanced 911 (E911) support, which provides caller information on the screen of the emergency operator answering the call. Without 911 support, BroadVoice is better suited as a second line in your home for unlimited long-distance calling.
Aside from 911 calling, BroadVoice offers a wide range of features. Caller ID, call return, three-way calling, and voicemail are all part of the standard bundle, along with numerous call-forwarding options, such as forwarding when your line is busy, forwarding if you do not answer, forwarding every call, and forwarding to a range of phone numbers, such as your cell phone. You can configure the service so that calls meeting specified criteria (including incoming phone number and time of day) generate a notification e-mail to an address of your choice. You can also configure caller ID to work with a contacts database--either the useful CommPilot Call Manager application that comes with your account or Microsoft Outlook. With Outlook, you can also click a contact's name to dial that person.
As you'd expect, you can block your phone number from appearing on your recipient's caller ID screen, and you can set up a series of numbers or names whose calls will always ring your phone, even if you've activated the Do Not Disturb option and cannot otherwise be reached. For a $9.95 setup charge and $1.95 per month, you can add two alternate numbers, each with any of the area codes that BroadVoice serves. For example, you can sign up for a number with your mother's area code so that all of her calls to her favorite son or daughter are local. Other providers charge $5 per month for a single virtual number.
The service also supports hunt groups, which are lists of phone numbers (those of your business's remote offices, for example) through which an incoming phone call will cycle to guarantee an answer. You can configure a hunt group in a number of ways. You can have all lines ring simultaneously (with the first person to answer taking the call) or in any order you prefer. Obviously, hunt groups are designed for business accounts and can provide flexibility in customer service. Like virtual numbers, hunt groups add a couple of dollars to your monthly BroadVoice bill.