VOIP: General Experiences? Faxing? On NYC Verizon DSL? Legal in EU?
January 7, 2005 10:39 AM   Subscribe

VOIP Filter:

I would like feedback regarding people's experience with VOIP. Vonage and Lingo, and any others. Bonus points for feedback regarding faxing over VOIP. Even more bonus points for VOIP over a Verizon DSL line in the New York City area. Also, is VOIP legal in the EU?
posted by ParisParamus to Computers & Internet (42 answers total)
Thank you for bringing this up!

As a rider, I am looking for VoIP service in Canada... but I don't want to buy a gateway box! I want to use it through the internet coming into my computer computer and basically run a softphone (specifically, I want to run the Asterisk PBX).

Please, if you know of any way to get this, let me know. I have called Vonage, Sprint, Telehop, Bell, and others -- none of them have a clue.

PP, BTW, I found after speaking with about 5 CSRs at Vonage that they are all drunk all the time. Or perhaps they hire people from mental institutions. Either way... call them and be sure you can handle their lack of intelligence first!
posted by shepd at 11:04 AM on January 7, 2005

With vonage for about a year. Very happy with them, the pricing is awesome. Call quality can sometimes have a duplexy, delayed feeling to it, but 98% of the time it's fine.

If you also have a cell phone, the VERY infrequent, short down periods will be transparent to you, as you can set up incoming calls to just bounce to your cell if the service (or your Internet) is down. (As well as if the line is busy, of if no one picks up, or just because you're out of the house or traveling...)

Only caveat for me is that you can't use bitTorrent and vonage together without more tweaking than I am capable of doing. Surely someone else will pop on here to say it's not a big deal, but I just go without BT.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:12 AM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: I guess the quality question can be answer using the following benchmarks: better than cell phone? as good as sound quality over a cordless phone?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:22 AM on January 7, 2005

stupidsexyFlanders, try the ABC bittorrent client. You can set the maximum upload speed with it. Give your VoIP service some overhead, say 200 kbps.
posted by shepd at 11:26 AM on January 7, 2005

We just switched over to Vonage's 500 minute plan for $15 a couple weeks ago. Neither my g/f nor I are big talkers, and we each have cell phones, so it's kind of ideal for us. The quality is great- I bought a new 5.4Ghz phone to use on it, and it sounds like a straight-up land line. Pretty impressive, considering the phone router is hooked up downstream from my wireless router, which is hooked into my cable modem.

The online tools are great, too.
posted by mkultra at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2005

Cordless and cell quality varies so much. In general, it's better than cell, somewhere between cordless and landline.

A better benchmark, PP, would be how often other people comment on not being able to hear or understand you, or how often you hear your own voice on a delay. And for me, that's under 1%.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:30 AM on January 7, 2005

good luck faxing over voip. some providers have more luck than others with it, but it can still be inconsistent. outgoing fax is more likely to work than incoming. as a workaround, tpc.int works great for me, but it's not a perfect solution for everyone.

voip will work fine over dsl. it's legal in the eu (india and maybe some ex-soviet states are the only places I can think of that forbid voip)

shepd: I've been using voicepulse's "connect" iax business service for over a year and it's been great. not sure if they can provide canadian DIDs, but try here for business and b2b providers of iax service, definitely some in canada. nufone is also highly recommended but again I do not know offhand if they can provide a canadian number for incoming calls. right now I am using asterisk with TDM hardware to take incoming calls from the regular pstn as well as making outgoing local calls, and using voicepulse for outgoing long distance service; when I move in the next few months I will most likely ditch the pstn part of it.

I can run several bittorrents at once and still have high quality calls, but that's because I am running a traffic shaper on my router....
posted by dorian at 11:30 AM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: I'm only really concerned about sending faxes out.

Until recently, I was under the impression that I could not send faxes without "something extra"; the providers are trying to get you to pay for a second dedicated line (~$10.00), and make every effort to obscure the fact that faxes can be sent on the primary line.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:40 AM on January 7, 2005

give tpc.int a try then -- it's free and has pretty decent coverage of north america as well as several other countries; and you can very simply send text thru the web interface or you can send images (e.g. scanned documents) thru a client software interface.

no question that faxes are hasslesome to the providers -- fax messages use a specific codec that does not play well with many voip systems. it's hard to get it working reliably. not sure why they would insist to charge for a second line tho, unless the purpose is also incoming fax.
posted by dorian at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: "short down periods will be transparent to you, "

Actually, I think you mean "invisible"; transparent = the problem is visible, as opposed to hidden: transparent accounting, for example.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:58 AM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Dorian, I'm speaking of sending high-quality faxes of MS Word Documents to my clients. That's a nice little utility, but not what I need.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:01 PM on January 7, 2005

if you need high/business quality, you kind of have to pay for it. personally I would not consider using a consumer voip service to do business over; and in any case I certainly would not use it to fax over.

also, there's no such thing as a high-quality fax. it's designed to be crap. crap with error correction sure, but it's still crap. and this is me speaking as someone who has designed and built fax+ocr systems for medical insurance groups. talk about nightmares.

I just don't get the continuing attachment people have to faxes -- if the documents are already digital, why not simply email them or put them on a web/ftp/etc. server? if they need to be "signed" there are digital ways to do that too.
posted by dorian at 12:11 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Dorian, because my clients are attorneys, some of whom don't even have e-mail in their offices; some of whom are still using dos programs on computers in their offices.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:20 PM on January 7, 2005


in that case, for business purposes the best thing I can honestly recommend is to use a normal fax machine (or even better a faxmodem and then simply do the print/fax thing from ms office, which is probably what you've been doing) and a normal phone line.

I do believe there are for-profit things similar to tpc.int out there, that let you send word documents and such. no experience with them, but I imagine the cost would be much less than the regular phone bills.

but still, try voip, the cost is not great and you might get lucky and have it work "good enough". there is always much discussion of fax over voip on the dslreports forums, check there and see who is having luck with which service.
posted by dorian at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks. Since I don't think there's any contractual commitment, I'm probably going to try Lingo or Vonage, and see how it goes. I'm just sick of spending about $55 for regional unlimited phone service with Verizon--rather spend $15 or $20.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2005

I've been using Vonage for about a year. Call quality is normally equal to the best land-line quality I've had. I've had occasion to hear what the speaker-to-hearing lag is (my landlord was calling me from right outside my door), and it's noticeable then, but the delay in conversations isn't noticeable to me.

I have only one caveat regarding quality: My quality suffers in asymmetric ways if I'm donwloading or uploading something large. If the former, they break up, but can hear me fine the whole time; if the latter, the reverse. There's supposed to be a way that you can set up the VOIP modem so that it grabs dedicated bandwidth, but that (wiring) configuration doesn't work for me for reasons I forget (it's been a year since I set it up).

[Using Vonage unlimited service on RoadRunner standard (2.6Mbps) on a segment where I routinely get full speed.]
posted by lodurr at 12:47 PM on January 7, 2005

huh, looks like the windows client software lets you print-to-fax word (and other) documents thru tpc.int after all.

HQFax2K is specifically designed for Win2K users. It comes with a native win2k postscript printer driver for high quality fax output.

I would still hesitate to recommend it if it's for business purposes, but in this case the net cost is zero and it also may be "good enough".
posted by dorian at 12:51 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Well, I'm a Mac guy, so that wouldn't help anyway. I appreciate the effort, though.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:56 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Dorian, "business" in this case = small consulting venture that sends about 4hours of faxes per-month. I would love to grow out of the size that could get by with a residential phone line. Also, the attorneys will, eventually, get e-mail...
posted by ParisParamus at 1:06 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: I think the other advantage to VOIP is that it's not taxed the way conventional phone service is. That will, eventually change, but I worry about that later.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2005

I've been using Vonage for 6 months now.

They royally screwed up my account at first...nothing was working, my number was never ported over to their system, 911 was screwed and tech support was horrible.

I stayed on them night and day until the problem was fixed and the end result? 2 months = 10.00 total (they credited back the 80 dollar modem, 2 months of free service, an extra line for free --but I had to stay on them to admit they'd made a bunch of mistakes on my account)

I've had it working now 4 months now and I *love* it. Mainly because I don't get charged for calling Canada and Mexico (or long distance in the USA), you get all the bells and whistles and it forwards to mobile.

My bitching about it (other than the 3 months of them never getting their act together) is that when the net goes down, so does the phone and it took a lot of finagling with our alarm system attached to our house (and the phone lines).
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:16 PM on January 7, 2005

I have some history in designing converged IP networks and have spoken at some conferences and colleges here in Canada on the topic (IP Convergence, and scheduled for TUMI in Winnipeg).

Designing of course is always different than using.. Luckily, I've been able to participate in a VoIP trial here for a soon to be released product.

My wife and I absolutely love our VoIP phone! LD calls in Canada and the US sound perfect. I've had no opportunity to call overseas at this time. No hiss or other issues at all - no quantization of our voices (it passes my own little "whistle and hum" test. Callers on the other end have no clue I'm on a VoIP phone.

It's a very interesting time for us in the networking field, as phone companies like Telus and MTS provide cable over DSL and companies like Shaw/Cogeco/Rogers provide voice over cable.
posted by burhan at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: It that $80 for a modem needed if you already have, e.g., DSL working? That's kind of steep for an "experiment."?
posted by ParisParamus at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2005

I wasn't charged for any equipment, and they sent me a free router. Mind you, I'm already wireless, so I had to piggy-back it on to my existing one rather than go out and get a wireless-and-voip router, but you shouldn't need an additional modem.
posted by mkultra at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2005

ParisParamus, I did I'm afraid but someone with good knowledge about the subject (like mkultra apparently does) might know a way around that.

Circuit City has a 50 dollar rebate on it (or they did when I checked).

I hope this helps

(mkultra - just in case that statement comes across as sarcasm, I'm complimenting you, not being an ass. I'm just making a disclaimer per the non-emotional basis we have to communicate)
posted by Hands of Manos at 2:11 PM on January 7, 2005

I'll add my Broadvoice experience, because I didn't see it mentioned...

I first read about them at Cool Tools. Everything seems very similar to Vonage (even the website), though the prices are a little lower. I think they must be small because "support" always sounds like some guy in his bedroom, but they've been very responsive. Quality is the same as people have described Vonage - uploading and downloading causes it to break up. They recently updated the tools for managing your account on the web, which are now fantastic.

My biggest gripe with VoiP - my power company recently fried my home, including my modem, and trying to get things back in order with no web access AND no phone has been difficult.
posted by monkeystronghold at 2:12 PM on January 7, 2005

I've been very happy with Broadvoice, as well.
posted by bshort at 2:41 PM on January 7, 2005

VOIP is legal in the EU (or, at least, the UK). BT, the UK's incumbent copper-wire telco has a rather absurdly priced VOIP offering that they seem to be underpromoting at the moment.

I use a Vonage VOIP box and phone in the UK daily, and have started using Vonage's softphone in the UK on OS X over the last week or so. No stand-out problems with the former over the last 18 months (over both DSL and cable).
posted by danhon at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: Wow. That Broadvoice is cheap: $20 unlimited "world"! Their interface for determining whether I can get a 718 area code number--Brooklyn, Center of the Universe--is not very good. But that looks too good to be true; all I really need is in-state unlimited for $10. Wow.

I think Verizon may be in trouble rather soon....
posted by ParisParamus at 3:43 PM on January 7, 2005

dorian, big thanks! I emailed those companies and hopefully I will get somewhere.

NuFone looked great but they're USA only (I emailed them). Oh well. So close but so far, I suppose.
posted by shepd at 3:54 PM on January 7, 2005

What you're looking for is an Analog Terminal Adapter - or ATA - and the retail prices at Radio Shack and the like are pretty good.

I've been pricing out ATAs for our own little VoIP project at my company and I'm routinely finding prices of around $120 for a four port unit, which will support faxing.

I think the other advantage to VOIP is that it's not taxed the way conventional phone service is. That will, eventually change, but I worry about that later.

It may, it may not. The FCC recently granted a great deal of latitude to Vonage. They are not considered a phone company, per se, and thus are not subject to standard tarriffs, etc. I'll try and find the article, but industry people are referring to it as the "Vonage Decision."
posted by TeamBilly at 4:57 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: TeamBilly. Hey. Look. I'll take a few $$$ any way I can get. I need money for dates. And for a new PowerBook.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2005

Response by poster: TeamBilly, what are you saying about an ATA? I'm under the impression that I will be able to port the phone line out of my iMac to the place I would plug my phone into on the VOIP sofware, and be ready to fax. No?
posted by ParisParamus at 5:22 PM on January 7, 2005

Just out of curiosity, does anyone do anything like have their water meter read over VOIP, or have their TiVo hooked up to one? is it do-able?
posted by fixedgear at 5:55 PM on January 7, 2005

TeamBilly, what are you saying about an ATA? I'm under the impression that I will be able to port the phone line out of my iMac to the place I would plug my phone into on the VOIP sofware, and be ready to fax. No?

The "VOIP software" is in the ATA. The ATA is the box that gives you dialtone. All analog phones, including faxes, plug into the ATA.

does anyone do anything like have their water meter read over VOIP, or have their TiVo hooked up to one?

I have my TiVo hooked up to my Vonage line. You have to enter a couple of dialing codes to get the TiVo's built-in modem to slow down to a speed that the Vonage service can handle; these can easily be Googled (that's how I found them). Another useful tip, if you have any of those DSL line filters, is to add one of those between the TiVo and the Vonage box -- some users say it seems to help.
posted by kindall at 6:08 PM on January 7, 2005

I've played with a couple of these VOIP applications, but the main problem is that I don't know anyone else using VOIP, so I have nobody to call.

VOIP will work wonderfully when they can figure out a single address namespace, though. Telephone numbers must die.
posted by majick at 2:00 AM on January 8, 2005

shepd, no worries it is always good to see people interested in it! one thing I have been considering is just get an 800 number as my DID, it does not really cost that much more than a regular number; not sure how canada treats usa toll free #s tho: is it free to call from all of canada?

majick -- things like e164 and freenum are working to create something like that. the problem of course is that it's easy to do on a smaller scale (e.g. freeworlddialup, iaxtel, etc.) but to do it on the scale of, say, the entire world (or even just an entire country) takes a staggering amount of resources. but the idea of mapping real pstn numbers to voip devices is a prettty smart way to go about it.

kindall, I am impressed by your luck -- dialup over voip is not quite as troublesome as faxing but it's still fairly unlikely. good for you.
posted by dorian at 9:17 AM on January 8, 2005

Making IP to IP calls is relatively simple. The hard part is finding a service to allow you to "hop off" the IP network and onto the PSTN (public switched telephone network.) I'm in Dallas, have an IP phone sitting on my desk which logs into a switch in Petaluma, CA. I can make local calls in California. Dialing 911 is a whole 'nuther mess, which not even Vonage has properly solved, though they're making progress.

Paris, if you have an ATA, you run a line OUT of the Imac faxmodem port and INTO one of the ports on the ATA - something like this unit from Oki.

Two caveats, though: 1) These things are like cell phones, constantly discontinued and re-updated on a regular basis. What's here today may not be supported tomorrow. 2) I don't know if Vonage allows you to use off-the-shelf ATAs or if you have to use theirs.

Okay three caveats....

3) You can have all the ATAs in the world, but you need a service provider to handle the hop-off function to make the thing worthwhile - like having a pistol without ammo - you need a way to get someone to handle the switching for you. That is the service which Vonage actually provides.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:22 AM on January 8, 2005

Response by poster: Is there any compelling reason to go with Vonage and not Broadvoice?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:47 AM on January 8, 2005

Just to let the Canadians know, spectravoice and unlimitel seem to be able to do what I was looking for. I am VERY happy I found them. Reasonable rates, too.
posted by shepd at 11:59 AM on January 8, 2005

I'm sure that your questions were answered ok above, but in short, I have Vonage, love it, and will never have an copper line again, so long as I can help it.
posted by adampsyche at 12:04 PM on January 8, 2005

Don't know the difference between the offerings, honestly, but I can tell you they probably use the same switching equipment in both networks. There's a finite number of companies who make "soft switches" for IP stations/facilities.

and will never have an copper line again, so long as I can help it.

This is dangerous. I cannot stress enough the importance of a copper line as a backup. If you lose power (storm, other natural disaster) your 'puter and ATA from vonage are going kaput. Your copper line phone is run by a giant rack of batteries backed up by a monster generator in a hardened facility, usually underground.

If the network connection bounces, you're cut off. If some yahoo with a backhoe takes out your net connection, you're cut off. There are many points of failure in a VoIP connection.

Fact is, the PSTN is the most stable and reliable means of communication out there, and it's often a lifeline. I would not trust ANY ip-solution 100%. I keep both.
posted by TeamBilly at 12:24 PM on January 8, 2005

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