Vonage

Traditional telephone companies must be pretty depressed right now. Voice over IP (VoIP), is growing fast and making it ever more difficult to justify the telephone charges.

You can make VoIP calls for free using services from Skype, Google Chat and others, but all require your computer to be on, and your call recipient to be logged in too. Many VoIP services offer a way to call regular landline (or mobile phones for that matter), but that costs extra. Vonage is one of those services, and we took it for a test drive.

When you sign up you get an Ethernet phone adaptor (pictured), into which you can plug any normal phone – no headsets required, unlike the computer-only options. Also included is a telephone number for most areas.

Setting up is easy, just plug the box into your broadband router (it needs to have Ethernet) and plug your phone into the box. That’s it: for £7.99 per month you can make free calls, any time of the day or night, to anywhere in the UK or Ireland. Mobile calls cost 15p during the day, 10p in the evenings, and 5p at weekends. International call prices vary, but in general they are cheap. For example, a call to the US is 2p per minute, Australia 3p, Japan 4p and South Africa 7p. If you go a little further off the beaten track, like Kazakhstan, it jumps to 12p, and East Timor is £1.87. But generally you can be sure of very low prices.

Of course, one worry might be reliability, both of service and quality. Quality can be adjusted using the Bandwidth Save feature. From the web dashboard you can set the bandwidth used for calls from 30Kbps to 90Kbps. There was no discernable hit to downloading speeds using the 90Kbps setting, and it delivered better quality than BT, even when used for long-distance calls.

If the worst does happen and your broadband goes up in smoke, there’s no need to worry. Simply set your line to forward calls to your mobile or BT phone in case of interruption and you need never miss a call.

If you have a particularly far-flung relative or friend, Vonage can make calling them cheap or free. For example, if Uncle Billy in Toronto has broadband and signs up for Vonage, all calls with him will be free (because all Vonage-to-Vonage calls are free). If he’s not hooked up to broadband, you can still save money by adding a virtual number to your Vonage number. Choose a Toronto number and your phone calls will be priced as local calls, which is cheap, or even free. The virtual number costs an additional £2.99 per month. Prices vary, and virtual numbers are only available in nine countries so far, but the network is growing fast.

OUR VERDICT

On top of cheap calls, Vonage offers lots of features, including caller ID, voicemail and more, so it delivers lots of value. If you have broadband, and your phone bill is over £7.99 per month, Vonage makes perfect sense. Shame you still have to pay BT for line rental though.

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