I must admit, I was expecting a much more complicated and finicky product when I was asked to review the Vonage IP Phone System. Having experience a multitude of network products in the past, I expected a special phone with multiple cables and a cd with the installation software and setup instructions etc. Thankfully … and to the credit of the engineers at Vonage … that is not the case at all. In fact there is no software to install … no special telephone … and only a few familiar cables required.

Lutron Electronics

For our Home Network installation (see the Home Technology Demonstration Project for details of our setup) all we had to do was install the Digital Phone Adapter (shown above) between our cable modem and router using the included Ethernet patch cord. Then you just plug a standard telephone into the phone jack on the back of the adapter and you’re ready to go.

Plug in the adapter and sit back while it powers up, configures itself and registers. That’s it … as soon as the lights stop blinking you’re ready to start making calls. And in my case … everything went as advertised … amazing. We’ve come a long way in the past few years when it comes to product design and ease of installation. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and in my opinion … this system is ready for the mainstream.

So … why would you want an IP telephone? For one thing … how about the ability to have a phone number in any city you wish … that rings wherever in the world you plug it in? For a small business operator that just opens up a whole mess of possibilities … don’t you think?

Or … how about unlimited local and long distance calling for $24.99 per month … from anywhere … to anywhere … anytime??? OK … so I’m starting to sound like a commercial … sorry 🙁

Back to the benefits of the IP phone. Because the system is using the internet … it naturally makes all of your account information available to you online. Details of every call (incoming and outgoing) is available immediately in your account. Again … pretty nice for a small business operator who bills telephone hours etc. With caller ID the records even let you see who called in addition to their number.

How about voicemail? The Vonage system includes voicemail options that you pay extra for with most phone companies. Voicemail takes over if you are already on the line, if the phone is unplugged and of course if the phone goes unanswered. If the internet is down the call is forwarded to a number that you specify as an option. Messages can be retrieved from any phone or your PC. The system can even email you the wav file message so you can hear it without picking up the phone at all.

Some other features and options include:

* Call forwarding
* Call waiting
* Softphone (transforms your desktop PC into an Internet-based phone)
* Virtual Phone Numbers (inexpensive secondary numbers that ring to your primary Vonage phone line. People outside of your local calling area can call you for the price of a local call if you choose a virtual phone number in their area code.)
* Toll free numbers
* Dedicated fax line (uses the second phone jack on your adapter.)

And I’m sure there is more that is in the works or already implemented. This is a new technology and I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Now … what about reliability, clarity etc. After all … the key to communication is that it works easily, clearly and reliably … isn’t it? Well yes as far as I’m concerned. But then again … our society has become totally entranced with a technology that in my opinion does not meet any of these requirements … namely the cell phone! Not ready for the mainstream as far as I’m concerned.

But … let’s get back to this technology … the IP telephone. So far my experience has been excellent with the Vonage product. We’ve been using it for a few weeks as the main outgoing phone at HomeToys and it seems to be very clear and reliable. At our end we have not noticed any loss of conversation, however, occasionally we have been told that our voice has broken up at the other end. I just completed a test where I simultaneously downloaded a file from the internet to one computer on our network … uploaded a file on another computer … and made a call on the IP phone. The comment from the person I called … “You sound more clear than normal”. Neither of us noticed any degradation at all.

Looks like IP telephony is here to stay. Let your imagination decide what it can do for you!