Saturday, October 01, 2005

My Beginnings with Vonage (Part I)

My Beginnings with Vonage (Part I)

I have been a customer and evangelist of Vonage for over two years.  While living in the San Diego area, I had two POTS lines:  one with AT&T and the other with SBC that was required for my DSL.  I used the AT&T for residential calls and outgoing long distance.  The SBC line was used for faxes and incoming business calls only.  I was paying at least $75 per month for both lines just for POTS and a few CLASS features.  In a fit of fiscal conservancy and to be on the bleeding-edge, I decided to see if Vonage could replace my primary line.

The sign-up was easy and a few days later my first ATA arrived.  Excited, I quickly hooked it up to my cordless phone, and few minutes later, I was making calls.  I loved it.  I could control all of my features through a web interface plus see all call activity almost instantaneously.  Not more than a day later, submitted the form to have my primary phone number transferred to my Vonage line.  Three weeks later my AT&T residential service was terminated and we were using Vonage for everything.  My POTS bill was a consistent $27 per month plus another $16 for the required SBC line.  My next step was to connect the ATA to my home wiring so my family could use the service with any phone.  Since there was no QoS on my DSL, I threw bandwidth at the problem.  The DSL service was upgraded to the next tier for $5 per month to get 256 kbit/s upstream.  The service worked fine except for the occasional echo, garbled speech, and constant clicking.

In January 2004, we moved to Boulder and ran the service over Comcast’s High-Speed Internet.  We were able to keep the same San Diego phone number and get a new local number.  The transition for our friends and family was minimal.  What we noticed was a marked increase in the voice quality on Comcast’s network.  I had plenty of upstream bandwidth and there was no 200:1 oversubscribed DSLAM to block my packets.  I was elated.  We moved from hotel, to condominium, to our home without any service interruption.  A few months in our new home, I put a UPS on the cable modem, router, ATA, and office phone.  Now we have at least 8 hours battery backup on our service.  Due to the unreliable nature of Xcel Energy’s service, I have been able to test our backup power on several occasions.

Vonage has been a great replacement for traditional POTS.  I have had almost no problems with the service since moving into our home, and the voice quality has steadily improved.  I attribute this fact to Comcast’s Internet service and improvements at Vonage.  They have introduced two new features in 2005:  7-digit dialing and Click2Call.  Click2Call is a handy little program (developed by a Vonage customer) that runs on a PC enabling users to call from their contacts in Outlook or by cutting-and-pasting a number in a dialog box.  It could use SIP to do it instead it sends a HTTP message to a Vonage server.  Dialing 911 gets me to my PSAP without any ANI or location information.  I should have complete E-911 capabilities sometime in November.

Now that VoIP is maturing, I would expect Vonage to start releasing more features to keep up with the 1,100 other competitors out there.  I would also expect little bug fixes like calling name being sent to the called party and the calling party name in the subject header for e-mailed voice mail messages.  Nothing.  Everyday I am enticed by Microsoft and some partner’s announcement of presence integration with a VoIP service; IM integration with VoIP; VoIP peering with Skype and other providers; thoughts of voice over Wi-Fi; and new features like anonymous call rejection; distinctive ringing; PC call announcement/selectivity; and incoming ANI name replacement.  Other VoIP providers are offering these features.  Why not Vonage the market leader and innovator?

That question will be the topic of tomorrow’s blog and the point of this discussion.  I didn’t intend to go on and on about my experience with Vonage, but I was on a roll.  Next week  I will get to the point and discuss their transition from offering a great new service to a POTS replacement and how it plays into their business strategy.  Hopefully I can get it out before any more of my predictions, like being sold to BellSouth, are out in the press.