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2007-05-08 16:47:00

RealTalker Shares Thoughts About Top Internet Telephone Services

Q. I am looking for input from any small (under 20 agents) companies who have switched to a VoIP system from a traditional one.  We changed over a year ago and have had one problem after another, from clarity issues, to dropped calls, non-ability to transfer calls.  I know there are a lot of these companies out there now and would like to hear from people who have had good service and relatively few problems.

We are a small company.  We provide custom on-line document preparation systems for REALTORS under the rubric mbaiforms(tm).  We all work out of our homes.  We have established a technical support line to answer questions from people using the on-line systems.  We use Vonage.  The service has been good.
 
We selected Vonage because of the features it offers as well as the price.  The first feature that is important to us is "roll over".  For example, all support calls are placed to a single number.  If that line is busy the call will roll over to the next phone number in sequence until it finds one that is not busy.  This capability works even though we are in different physical locations.  I have not explored it, but there may be a PBX capability for use in a single location. 
 
In fact, when one of our tech support people needs to spend a day in another location, she can take the Vonage router with her and connect through whatever local Internet connection she has.  Alternatively, although we are just beginning to explore its use, Vonage has a "Vphone" that can be connected through a USB port to your laptop, and that provides the phone service wherever you happen to be as long as you have an internet connection.  I believe there are also PDA connections although we have not looked into those. 
 
The second important feature is voicemail.  This is a requirement for us and is included automatically in the Vonage service. There are many other features, but they are not needed in our business.
 
The quality of the voices on the phone is usually excellent.
 
The only problem we have experienced is the delay time that can be introduced by traffic on the Internet.  There are periods that the lines connecting us to the Internet are jammed with traffic, or, less likely, an Internet server is jammed with traffic. This might happen in the evening when a lot of people are using the cable lines for TV and for other purposes as well as for VOIP conversations. During those periods the spoken word may be delayed in its transmission.  At those times you need to take care when speaking to be sure that the other person actually has stopped talking.  Also, you might experience an unusual delay in receiving an answer to a question because the voice has been delayed by the busy internet lines. 
 
Their technical support is friendly and helpful. Their web site allows you to configure your phones anyway you want.  There are many features that you can choose to include or exclude, and they are easily changed by you using the "Dashboard."  
 
No, we are not resellers of Vonage nor any other phone service.  In fact, we are also using Skype. 
 
Again, the quality of the voice connection is generally excellent, although it seems to be subject to the same transmission delays during busy times as Vonage.  However, I find Skype to be amazing due to its simplicity of installation and ease of use.  Skype does not offer the rollover service that Vonage does, and that is a show stopper for us for business use.  It includes voicemail and other features. 
 
Basic Skype service is free.  That service includes a "Skype" address, which is like an e-mail address.  You call from your PC or PDA to other Skype addresses and the service is free, just like e-mail service or instant messaging.  In fact, this is pretty useful because you can share photos, contracts, etc. at the same time as you speak to the other person.  You can even use web cameras attached to the PC's if you want to see and hear each other during your conversation. 
 
If you only need a single phone, Skype is the lowest cost service I have found at $30 per year (yes, per year), to call any phone in the U.S. or Canada.  This service is called "Skype Out."  You can call from your PC or PDA to any phone number.  However, this does not include a phone number for people to call you.  One of our people has eliminated his long distance service on his home phone and now only pays for local service on his land line phone.  He uses the Skype Out feature to make long distance calls.  People who call him call his land line phone, but that is not a charged service by AT&T, his phone service provider. 
 
I believe, although this could be wrong, it would cost another $30 per year for "Skype In" to provide you with a phone number for people to call.
 
If you are interested, their web sites are (not surpisingly), www.vonage.com and www.skype.com to find out more about their services. -- Marvin Beriss, MB Associates, Inc.

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