16/05/2005

Vonage - The Broadband Phone Company

Vonage - The Broadband Phone Company

The Vonage (Linksys) router and phone adapter arrived (it's a combined unit) with an "Internet" Ethernet connection, 3 LAN Ethernet connections and 2 phone sockets. The configuration is quite simple, but you have to be carefull, initially you can only configure the unit from the LAN ports which are set to a 192.168 private address.

Since there was already a DSL router there was no need to configure the Linksys router section (it's a shame they don't bridge between LAN and Internet - there seems no way to do it), which wastes the 3 LAN ports. Once the Internet side had a valid IP address it "just worked".

Plugging in a standard BT phone with CLI display worked too and you could instantly make phone calls (the units are sent out pre-configured to work with your Vonage account). The phone even showed a voicemail indicator when there waiting voicemail at Vonage. Very cute. Unfortunately it wouldn't go away, even when the voicemail was deleted.

After a bit more fiddling and allowing incoming traffic to the unit (through the firewall), the voicemail indicator worked properly too.

Vonage have done an excellent job making the system easy to use and functional.

It's relatively cheap at £9.99 per month for the residential service which includes unlimited UK local and national calls (you do have to pay for non-geographic/mobile and international calls). Calls to other Vonage customers are always free.

Sound quality at the user end seems to be pretty well near toll-grade quality, however other users (on PSTN or Vonage) complained of some echo. That could be because the upstream bandwith of UK ADSL is only 256Kb/s which could be the bottleneck of the call, while downstream is 2Mb/s. Of course most ADSL customers in the UK will be on 512Kb/s downstream and 256Kb/s upstream.

VoIP is starting to make a dent in the regular UK telephony market and the dent is soon going to be a gaping hole. Anyone relying on voice minutes for a business, isn't going to last long. When BT's 21CN comes on-line that will change things forever as the PSTN disappears and everyting is VoIP, but change is already occuring and if BT's promised QoS on DSL does happen, VoIP will rapidly take-over all UK telephony.

Some LLU entrants are already offering VoIP as part of their services (even though the end-user may not be aware of it), it makes sense to do so as it only costs about 40% to build packet networks rather than legacy TDM networks.

The migration to VoIP does introduce interesting challenges, like how to make money? More and more services are being bundled in, and the cost to transport packets from A to B or A to C is pretty well identical, so calls will no longer be charged by destination or even duration. Only time will tell.
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