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VOIP Telephony


VOIP has pretty much decimated the wired phone business. That is, telephone calls transmitted digitally over the internet - Voice Over Internet Protocol.

If you have a decent wideband internet connection, you can replace your wired phone service with VOIP for a much lower cost and many more useful features. The phone company will try desperately to sell you a "bundle", but then you are stuck with what they're selling. A host of companies now offer VOIP service that seamlessly interfaces with the conventional PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), allowing a VOIP user to call anyone, anywhere.

Some of the services that I investigated and considered are:

lingo.com
packet8.net
broadvox.com
vonage.com

I chose lingo.com because:
-- They were able to give me a temporary phone number nearby (Asheville, NC), and would port my BellSouth number to their system.
-- Their rates are low - $21.95/mo for unlimited calling (or $14.95 for 500 min/mo).
-- Their free calling area includes Western Europe as well as the US and Canada. I think Lingo is unique in allowing free unlimited calls to Western Europe.   Calls to other places are charged by the minute, but the rates are quite low.
-- They offer a free 30 day trial.   After that, for the first year, there's a disconnect penalty.
-- The first month is "free", but that's a bit misleading, because they charge $9.95 to ship the necessary ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter), and a $29.95 activation fee, so the first month's bill was $39.90. Subsequent charges, with small taxes and fees, will be $22.09/mo.
-- A cursory check of company financials suggest a reasonably well-funded company that's not about to disappear any time soon.

Lingo has a "Refer-a-Friend" program.   If a new customer signs up on my recommendation, both of us receive a $25. credit, so if you wish to sign up, email me first - dad@datix.us

There's a long list of features (see the lingo web page), but the most useful are simultaneous ring, which causes incoming calls to ring on both the home phone and a cell phone (or any other number), speed dialing of 8 parties with two key strokes, voice mail sent as an email attachment, call waiting and three-way calling.   Since VOIP service is "virtual" and is defined by the configuration in your ATA box and not by a physical wire, it is possible to carry the ATA box on trips and plug it in to any internet connection and have normal phone service.   Lingo will also provide (for $4.95/mo) an additional number in an arbitrary area code that rings on your home phone.   This allows someone in that area to call you and be charged for a local call.    Of course, calls between Lingo customers anywhere in the world are completely free, even if you choose the limited 500 min/mo plan.


Making the Connection

Connecting Lingo service is pretty easy, but the critical prerequisite is 24/7 wideband internet service.   I had ADSL service and wired phone service from Bell South for  5 years and was very happy with the ADSL service.   I virtually begged BellSo to let me keep the ADSL and drop the phone service, but they refused.   I read that BellSouth has recently (March 2005) won a court decision that they will no longer be compelled to sell "dry lines".  I think they should be more careful what they wish for.   This may well be a pyrrhic victory because many will do what I did - cancel both phone service and ADSL.   That seems like a pretty dumb policy.   As a result, I discontinued wired phone, ADSL and DirecTV satellite service, and switched to cable TV, cable internet and VOIP.   The total cost is significantly lower, and the services are much better.

The Lingo ATA box arrived three days after I ordered it.   It has two ethernet ports - one connects to the internet; the other is a pass-thru port to connect other devices.    Lingo recommends connecting the ATA directly to the cable modem, and other devices to the pass-thru port.   Instead, I connect a wireless/wired router to the cable modem.   The ATA plugs into the router alongside several computers, some connected wirelessly.   All are protected from the dangers of the wild internet by the router's firewall.   Nothing is connected to the pass-thru ethernet port.   This arrangement works perfectly.

There are three phone ports, but only one is activated for residential service.   For business accounts the other ports are used for a second phone number and a fax line.   The first port provides the phone service - multiple phones can be connected to that single port.   My house, like most, is wired with multiple phone jacks wired in parallel - 9 of them, altogether.   The wiring emanates from the phone company's Customer Interface box outside the house.   It was simple to unplug the "test plug", which isolates the house wiring from the service wire from the street.   Then I connected the Lingo phone port to one of the house jacks which distributed Lingo service to all the other jacks.   It is supremely important to make sure the phone company wire is disconnected before connecting the Lingo box.   The 47 volts DC on that line will surely destroy the ATA.

Fax service

I had read reports that fax transmission over VOIP is unreliable, so was apprehensive when I needed to send a fax to Lingo to transfer my BellSo number.   Based on that single test case, I can say that faxes transmit perfectly over VOIP.   I use hylafax, the preeminent fax software for Linux, with a Zoom modem to send and receive faxes.   I had paid BellSo an extra fee for "distinctive ring" which provides a separate number for incoming fax calls, and programmed the modem to answer only that special ring cadence. However, in five years I've only sent maybe two faxes but received dozens of junk fax ads, so losing that special number is no loss.

Pros and Cons

Lingo service has been exemplary.   The voice quality is indistinguishable from wired service.   The extra features are very useful and it's nice to be able to call anywhere, anytime, and talk as long as you like without additional cost.

Reliability is a potential problem in the event of a power failure.   The phone company sends power over the phone line, and their reliability is legendary.   It is common to report a power outage by picking up the phone to call for help.   No one thinks twice about this anomaly.   With VOIP, service depends on the cable service, the cable modem and the ATA box.   If any of these fail - no more phone service.

I have a 825 VA UPS (uninterruptable power supply) for the computer systems.   During a power outage computing is pretty low on my needs list, so I've programmed the computers to shutdown after only two minutes, leaving only the cable modem, router and ATA box running for as long as possible.   I don't know how long the UPS will support this light load, but I expect it will be several hours.   The cable company assures me that their distributed amplifiers are powered over the cable, so will function without local power.

PostScript

Since switching to VOIP in March 2005 Lingo service has been exemplary.   The cable service from Mediacom has been anything but.   Mediacom internet service reliability has been abyssmal - amateurish and incompetent.   Since I started keeping a record, there have been 362 service interruptions between Mar. 10, 2006 and Sept 19, 2006, some for a few minutes, others for a few days.   There's been only one in October, so there may be signs of improvement since I vigorously complained.   A cellphone backup is mandatory.

Mediacom has been bought by Morris Broadband;  service has improved somewhat.

If all else fails, I still have a cellphone which, thanks to simultaneous ring, will ring even if the house phone doesn't.

PostScript 2

I've noticed my monthly bill increasing - it's hit $42.44 instead of the $21.95 quoted above.  So, in Oct. '17 I checked and found that amount consisted of 26.95 plus 15.49 in assorted taxes and fees.  That's worse than the airline fares!  But on the lingo web page I see advertised $19.95/mo for "Lingo World".  When I called to complain, Kelli said my plan was called "Unlimited West Europe".  Only the name and the price were different.  She switched me to the cheaper newer plan and gave me a small refund.  BEWARE!