After getting a dial tone, we fired up our PC and logged on to the Broadvox Direct Web site to finish setting up features such as call forwarding and the contact list. Broadvox Direct's .Net-based Web site is easy to use and placing calls is a snap. There are no extra numbers to dial, and unlike every other Internet phone service we've tested, Broadvox Direct doesn't force you to dial the area code for local calls.Broadvox Direct offers two residential plans and two plans for small businesses, all of which include calls within the United States and Canada. There are no flat-rate international plans. Broadvox Direct offers low international rates, and you pay as you go. For $29.95, you get unlimited local and domestic long-distance calls and a free second (virtual) number in another area code. That costs as much as AT&T CallVantage, and AT&T's service offers more features and superior voice quality. BroadVoice and Packet8 cost $10 less per month and include many foreign countries in their unlimited minutes plans. Broadvox Direct's low-end $9.95 Residential Plan supplies only 100 outgoing minutes and no virtual number. The two business plans add a fax line and a Yellow Pages listing: $44.95 for unlimited local and domestic long-distance minutes or $34.95 for 1,500 local and domestic long-distance minutes. Regardless of the plan you choose, you'll pay a $34.95 activation fee.
Broadvox Direct offers the standard VoIP feature set, which includes voicemail, call waiting, caller ID, call return, outgoing caller-ID blocking, conference calling (up to three people, including yourself), 20 speed-dial entries, and the ability to send faxes and voice messages as e-mail attachments. One of the more useful features is call forwarding, which lets you specify which calls to forward to another number (to your cell phone, for example), and during dinnertime or baby's nap time, the do-not-disturb feature will send calls directly to voicemail without ringing your phone.
You'll also enjoy Broadvox Direct's Friends & Family Number, which is a second virtual number that comes free with the $29.95 plan, or you can get it for an extra $4.95 with other plans. You can sign up for the second number in any of Broadvox Direct's available area codes, allowing people in that area code to avoid long-distance charges when calling you. You can get almost any area code you'd like in the United States or Canada. At the time of this writing, Iowa, Maine, and Vermont are the only states where BroadVoice Direct doesn't have service. (You can sign up for the service in one of these states, but your neighbors would have to call you long distance--not the best scenario.) Check under the Availability tab at the Broadvox Direct Web site to see whether your area is covered.
Your mother will certainly enjoy saving money on her long-distance bill by using your virtual number, but one obstacle that all Internet phone services face is loss of service when the power goes out or your Internet connection goes down. A traditional landline phone will continue to operate in such cases. Broadvox Direct offers a free survivability number, however, to which it will forward calls in the event of an Internet outage. And if you are planning on replacing your current phone service (as opposed to just your long-distance carrier) with Broadvox Direct, be sure to check to see if 911 support is available in your area when signing up. If 911 calling is a stumbling block, check out Packet8, which is the first VoIP service to offer Enhanced 911 supportWe 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|
Broadvox Direct was one of only two VoIP services we've tested that couldn't uphold the same level of audio quality under baseline conditions as that of the other VoIP services (the other was Lingo). We define baseline conditions as when the VoIP service's 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 the router. The other VoIP services maintained nearly the same audio quality you would expect from a regular analog (landline) telephone connection; the Broadvox Direct connection came close, but it didn't quite measure up, as it sounded slightly muddied on both ends of our calls.
What Broadvox Direct has in common with all of the other VoIP services is a faint but noticeable background noise. For Broadvox Direct, this sounded like a weak scratching noise, which was evident on both ends of the calls--while it was noticeable on most of our calls, it wasn't present on all of them. As we noticed with a handful of the other services, the background noise was more pronounced when no one was speaking. Unique to Broadvox Direct was that we also heard infrequent, random "pops." Depending on your hearing sensitivity, these background noises will register anywhere from not audible to mildly annoying. The noises, however, did not adversely affect our ability to make or receive calls.