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Monday, March 22, 2010

VONAGE WORLD MOBILE - VoIP TO GO

For a long time, one of the dreams of the VoIP industry (Voice over Internet Protocol) is to have a portable device to place telephone calls over the Internet. I started to see some VoIP enabled mobile phones a couple of years ago but it seemed slow to catch on. Recently though, I took a test drive of the new Vonage World Mobile offering which was announced last December. At first, I thought it was going to be a hardware solution as most VoIP enabled services, including Vonage's home service, requires an adapter between a modem and the telephone. Interestingly, this was not the case with Vonage World Mobile which is an interesting software implementation made available as an "app" for download to either a Blackberry, iPhone, or iPod (I tried it on a Touch 2). These units are Wi-Fi enabled and can connect to local hot spots, such as your home or business, a library, hotel, school, airport, a cafe or restaurant, anywhere Wi-Fi is enabled which seems to be just about everywhere these days (including my auto mechanic's shop).

Once you are connected to the network, you are then free to call anyone in 60 countries for just under $25 a month, including land lines and mobile phones. At first, I thought Vonage World Mobile was nothing more than competition to Skype's VoIP mobile offering, but I quickly discovered there was one significant difference between the two; whereas Skype offers free unlimited calling between Skype subscribers (Skype-to-Skype users) coupled with a low cost connection fee to regular telephones, Vonage on the other hand offers unlimited service to all telephones, not just to subscribers. This is a bit mind-boggling to anyone familiar with VoIP and general telephone services.

Actually, there are two plans offered by Vonage, an unlimited plan as mentioned above, and a "Pay Per Use" plan which offers unlimited service in the United States and a low connection fee for international calls. For example, calls to land lines in Japan is just $0.023/minute and $0.160/minute to mobile phones. You simply charge your account with a small amount of money which is deducted as you incur costs. Either plan is more than reasonable and ultimately depends on your personal communications needs.

As mentioned, the Vonage "app" is available as a free download either from the Vonage site or the iTunes App store. After your mobile device is started, you just select the Vonage app icon and the program starts accordingly. The first thing it looks for is an available Wi-Fi network to connect to. If multiple networks are available, you can select from a list. Once connected, you are presented with a familiar looking touch pad to enter numbers and place calls. Frankly, I found it easier to use than my regular cell phone.

I placed a few calls to different locales, some locally, a few around the country, and one to a business acquaintance in Japan. The audio quality was excellent, both sending and receiving. My contacts said they had no trouble hearing me and that it was a clear signal. In addition to the keypad, Vonage provides a menu of items for you to adjust your account as required, review your calling history, and access help if necessary. It was all rather simple and intuitive to use.

Vonage World Mobile is excellent for what it is intended to do, namely call just about anywhere and talk for as long as you want. However, this should not be mistaken as a total replacement for cell phones. There are, of course, certain limitations. For example, with the iPod Touch version, you are restricted to Wi-Fi connectivity which means you won't be using it to call anybody as you drive around in your car (which, to my way of thinking, isn't exactly a bad thing). However, the iPhone and Blackberry versions work off cellular networks as well. Also, you can place calls, but you cannot receive them, which explains why there isn't a Voice Mail box to collect calls when the unit is turned off. I'm sure the people at Vonage are working on something for this.

This brings up an important point, who would want to use Vonage World Mobile? It is more conducive for long distance calling as opposed to casual local calling (although it can, of course, accommodate both). Rather, I see this as an invaluable tool for business people and travelers who need to call home or their businesses. It would also seem like a natural for military personnel stationed overseas. If you are tired of being nickeled and dimed to death on minutes, now you can now talk for as long as you like from just about anywhere you like. It's perfect for long and engaging chats to friends and family, as well as discussing business at length. The savings in communications costs is simply staggering.

Vonage's decision to use iPods, iPhones, and Blackberries as their target platforms is rather shrewd as there are millions of units already sold, thereby enabling a ready-made market. Such users tend to be more technology savvy and would be more inclined to try Vonage World Mobile.

For MS Windows and MAC users who travel with their laptops, there is also the Vonage Pro Plan, a separate offering, which enables VoIP communications.

The company's foray into low cost VoIP service, both at home and now wireless, suggests Vonage is aggressively trying to dominate the resident VoIP market. And at the rate they are going, I don't see how anyone will be able to stop them.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.