You can add virtual numbers for $4.99 each per month. A virtual number is an additional phone number in a different area code that will ring your phone so that, say, your mother in Florida can call you without paying long-distance charges. Virtual numbers are available with U.S. and Canadian area codes where Vonage has service, plus Mexico City and parts of the U.K. Another option: sign up for an 800 number--also $4.99 per month--which provides 100 minutes of toll-free calls for incoming callers in the States.
For $9.99 per month, you can opt for one of two softphones, which give you a phonelike interface on your PC, that Vonage offers. If you are traveling a great deal, the softphones will let you make calls on your laptop (with a headset) without running up the minutes on your cell phone. And if you live your life out of a hotel room, take note: as with other VoIP services, you can connect to your Vonage account through your adapter and any broadband connection, which means you can throw the adapter in your suitcase and take your number with you when you're on the road.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|
Nearly all of the VoIP services we've tested provide a baseline audio quality that rivals that of a regular analog (landline) phone connection. (We refer to baseline quality as the audio quality of the VoIP service when the telephone adapter, or TA, is the only device sending and receiving substantial amounts of data over the local network. During these tests the only other devices permitted to transmit and receive network traffic are the broadband modem and the router.)
Vonage deserves kudos for being only one of two VoIP services (the other being AT&T CallVantage) we've tested where the clarity of the audio equaled that of analog call quality. The audio volume was actually louder than we experienced with our analog phone. As we've seen with every VoIP service that has come through our doors, however, a barely noticeable background hiss was present on both ends of a call. This faint background noise did not impact our ability to make and receive calls; it was little more than a very minor distraction, most evident when no one was speaking.
The majority of VoIP services we've looked at come with TAs that are designed to plug into an existing router. Vonage, on the other hand, comes with the Linksys RT31P2, which is a TA and a three-port wired Ethernet router--designed to connect directly to your broadband modem, with all other networked devices plugging into the Linksys device. From a VoIP-performance perspective, this is a very smart move. By integrating the TA and the router together, the TA can give priority to the voice data packets, minimizing the loss of audio quality when the network bandwidth becomes saturated--this is commonly referred to as Quality of Service (QoS).
Most small business and home broadband connections do not have enough upstream throughput to support both voice and data packets simultaneously. The unfortunate result of this fact is that most of the VoIP services we've seen suffer significant audio-quality degradation during calls that take place when the VoIP user is also generating significant upstream traffic from a PC, such as uploading photographs to an online photo-finishing service. Vonage did not suffer from these problems because the Linksys device is designed specifically to avoid them. The trade-off is that your Internet data throughput speeds will significantly decrease during VoIP calls. We noticed an approximate 22 percent drop in downstream throughput from our Internet connection during VoIP calls. More notably, our upstream throughput dropped a precipitous 64 percent during VoIP calls. Depending on how frequently you upload files from your computer, this might not be a significant issue for you. If you would rather give priority to your data packets and you're willing to live with subpar voice quality, you can manually change the QoS settings for the Linksys TA/router. You can also adjust the level of bandwidth used for voice traffic at Vonage's Web site with its Bandwidth Saver feature.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs Manager, Daniel A. Begun.
Find out more about how we test VoIP.Apart from a collection of FAQs and details on the Web site, Vonage offers e-mail answers for installation and technical support, customer service, and billing, as well as a toll-free, 24/7 Vonage help phone or fax line. Our calls were answered promptly and usefully in all cases, whether the questions dealt with installation or the service, such as how to change phone numbers and how to activate the fax service. In one case, the attendant was unsure of the answer (to a question about the possibility of purchasing a second phone adapter for the purpose of traveling) but quickly and courteously found out what we needed to know. Service, in other words, proved perfectly satisfactory.
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