How to Choos the Right VoIP Service
By Hamesh Brown
The Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service is in a state of flux, and is still a budding technology that will offer several new features as it matures. While it is true to say that there are many providers in the VoIP market with "unique" features of their own, one factor is common to all: they rely on the broadband Internet connection and do not bring the traditional telephone providers into the scheme of things. In the process, they offer price packages that are substantially lower than the traditional phone connection. So how do you evaluate one service provider vis-à-vis another, and then install the connection in your office or home? What should be your focus in selecting a specific provider?
Here are a few tips that will assist you in your choice.
Suitability to your specific requirements
For a start, you must weigh the features offered by the leading providers such as Vonage, Lingo, and Skype, and apply those features to your specific work environment and requirements. A service provider might offer the best of features, but they aren't any good if you cannot use them. If your priority is to make a large volume of international calls, particularly to Europe and Asia, Lingo is for you. Lingo is also a good option if you travel out of the US because you can carry your US number wherever you go and call the US at local rates. Lingo also comes with the lowest price for its range of features.
Skype is different from Lingo and Vonage in one important respect: it does not use a telephone as a go-between. While the Skype outgoing and incoming calls to/from a normal telephone is still to fan out in terms of dependability, Skype is the best option if you and your computer are inseparable and you have friends and family who are similarly inclined. For PC-to-PC calls, Skype is the best voice portal, and there is no price tag attached.
Voice quality and reliability
If your first priority is consistently good call quality, and you don't mind paying a bit more, consider Vonage. Vonage comes with almost identical features as Lingo, but there is minimal in-call lag and echo experience. With Lingo, be prepared to sacrifice on the quality of calls. In the competitive marketplace, each service provider promises the best of service and voice quality, and you cannot be sure about the product. If you are investing in a monthly/quarterly/annual contract, it is best to settle for a package that has a money-back guarantee behind it. Both Vonage and Lingo offer trial periods.
You also need to consider how easy—or how difficult—it is to install the service, both as a business option and for home use. For a single user, the process is not half as complicated as for multiple users in an office environment. You must be sure that the saving you make from an economically viable service is not offset by the installation costs. For example, you must keep in mind that in an office environment, the VoIP usage will put additional stress on your broadband connection, and you might have to invest in increasing your Internet capability.
Broadband connectivity issues
Remember that VoIP needs broadband connectivity to be functional. Prior to reaching a final decision on a VoIP package, you need to do a bit of research on the bandwidth that the service requires, and then ensure that your Internet service provider is able to match up. If you face regular power or Internet outages, you may end up paying for a service you cannot put to optimal use. In such situations, it is always advisable to retain your traditional phone line as a backup.
Flexibility to opt out
VoIP is still in a nascent stage, and the future may bring in new providers with richer services. Therefore, it is important not to get into a long-term contract or commitment with any service provider; keep the flexibility-to-switch option with you.
Internet telephony is the future, and even some traditional telephone service providers have conceded this by initiating VoIP packages of their own. The choices are many, and growing. As the user, it is finally up to you to use the right package to your best advantage.
About the Author
Hamesh Brown enjoys writing about VoIP. See http://www.voipreviewsonline.com/2005/10/which_voip_serv_1.html for another review of VoIP services.
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| Some other articles by Hamesh Brown|