|The adapter sits between your phone and your router and lets you make calls over the Internet.|
Packet8 recently introduced a dual-port adapter. Available at retail for around $70, the Packet8 BPA-410 adapter has two phone ports for dual lines. You pay the standard $29.95 activation fee for the first line and a $9.95 activation fee for the second line. Each line carries its own monthly service charge. For example, you'll pay $19.95 for each line if you want unlimited monthly minutes for each.
Once the service is working, you control your account through a Web-based interface. Everything you need is included here, particularly under the Edit Setting portion of the Account Details screen. You can change your personal information, upgrade your rate plan, view your call activity and past bills, forward calls, set anonymous call blocking, change your voicemail password and the answering speed, and disable or enable international calling. You can also manage many call settings via the phone instead of PC should you be away from home and decide, for example, you want to forward calls to your cell phone.Packet8 offers two residential calling plans. The Freedom Unlimited plan costs $19.95 per month and offers unlimited local and long-distance calling in the United States and Canada. You won't find a cheaper unlimited-minutes plan, although Lingo and BroadVoice offer comparable plans at this price level. For callers outside the States, the Freedom International plan also costs $19.95 per month and provides a number in a U.S. area code and 1,000 minutes to U.S. and Canadian numbers. Each plan includes a $29.95 activation fee.
Should you feel the need to see the people on the other end of the line (and have them see you), there's also a videophone-calling plan between similarly equipped subscribers. It's only $19.95 per month, but you're hit with a hefty $499 equipment charge for the videophone itself; plus, Packet8 adds the $29.95 activation fee on top of that. There is a $250 mail-in rebate that's good through June 2005, but if you cancel before the first year, you'll be charged a $200 early termination fee. At the time of this writing, Packet8 supports only its own videophone, so for now, early adopters with their own videophones are out of luck.
Unlike most VoIP services that offer low, pay-as-you-go calling-card rates to international destinations, Packet8 offers four flat-rate monthly packages, ranging from $39.95 to $79.95 per month, for unlimited calling to Europe, Asia, or the Philippines. These monthly plans are a boon for frequent overseas callers. Lingo is the only other service we know that offers flat-rate international monthly plans, and Packet8 performed much better than Lingo on our voice-quality tests.
Regardless of the plan you choose, you'll get features that include voicemail, call waiting, caller ID, three-way calling, call forwarding, and a choice of area codes within the large Packet8 coverage area (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, and Maine are the only states not included). Since we first looked at the service, Packet8 has added a number of other cool VoIP features. It now offers local number portability, which means you can transfer your current number to Packet8 service. You can also sign up for a virtual number, which is a second number in another area code. It'll cost you a $9.95 activation fee and $4.95 per month after that, but callers in the area code you choose will like you because they'll be able to make local calls to you. You can also now call 411 for information at 75 cents per call.
Most impressive, Packet8 is the first VoIP service to offer true 911 support. With Enhanced 911 (E911), emergency calls made with the Packet8 service are treated the same as those made with a regular landline phone. (E911 was created so that a cell phone caller's location could be determined.) While most VoIP services will connect 911 calls to a public safety answering point, or PSAP, like a standard landline phone, the calls aren't always routed to an emergency line at the PSAP, and you need to tell the operator your location over the phone. With Packet8, 911 calls provide a screen pop so that the emergency contact will automatically have your phone number and address in front of them. Packet8 charges $1.50 per month for E911, plus a $9.95 activation fee. And you need to enter your address on Packet8's Web site so that any 911 calls will be routed to the closest PSAP. We wish that E911 was free and didn't require the extra step of signing up for it, but we'd recommend doing so for anyone planning on replacing their current phone service with Packet8. E911 is offered in all but four states where Packet8 has service.
Two business plans are offered, as well. We're not sold on the Business 2000 plan, which costs $15 more per month than the unlimited residential plan and provides only one line and only 2,000 minutes per month. What business wants to count its minutes? The Virtual Office plan works on an extension-by-extension basis. For each extension, you'll need the Virtual Office kit, which includes a business speakerphone, and each extension costs $39.95 per month. You get unlimited minutes within the United States and Canada with this plan, as well as advanced voicemail, extension-to-extension dialing, three-way conferencing, and an autoattendant. Each extension can have a different area code if you wish, but unfortunately, as with the residential plans, there is no fax option yet. Fax is another feature that Packet8 intends to add in the near future yet doesn't currently offer--an important consideration for business users.
All plans are paid month to month, with no contract, although all include an activation fee or a hardware charge. Packet8 includes a 30-day money-back guarantee for all of its plans.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.