VOIP Versus Analog Telephone Service

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Know the facts before you consider making the switch from analog to VOIP telephone service.

Internet-based telephone services seem to have captured a lot of attention among residential and business phone customers lately. Offering a range of new features with attractive flat-rate “all-you-can-eat” prices, it would seem that the days of traditional, analog phone services are numbered. After all, if you can get unlimited local and long distance phone service for a flat rate of $20 - $40 per month, why pay more?

Here’s one reason. “I’ve had calls dropped in mid-conversation on my VOIP service, just like my cell phone,” says Bob Ghoman, President of Azura Technologies. Mr. Ghoman, who installed VOIP phone service in his home office last year, says that, “The sound quality can vary tremendously depending on the time of day, and it’s about as reliable as my cell phone when I’m driving.”

How is VOIP phone service different and why doesn’t it measure up to the quality and reliability of analog?

VOIP telephony provides phone service through a high-speed Internet connection. Once you’ve signed up, the VOIP phone company provides you with a small box, called a VOIP Telephone Adapter. The typical VOIP Adapter has two Ethernet ports, one for connecting to your cable or DSL modem or router, the other to connect to your computer. There’s also a standard phone jack, and a power adapter that must be plugged into an A/C outlet. The VOIP Adapter converts your analog voice signal into packets of data that are then squirted out over the public Internet.

As long as your VOIP Telephone Adapter has A/C power and your broadband Internet connection is live, you have a phone connection. The Telephone Adapter is programmed with your phone number, so wherever you plug it into a broadband connection, that’s where that number will ring if someone calls you, even if you’re in China. So far, so good. But there are tradeoffs.

“We used to get most of our business from people who wanted to save money over what the Baby Bells were charging,” says George Haymaker, President of FreeChoice Communications (http://www.freechoicephone.com), a provider of analog residential local and long distance phone service in California. “Lately, more and more of our new customers are people who have tried VOIP and become aware of its limitations.”

FreeChoice provides the same voice quality and reliability as the “big name” analog phone companies because it uses their communications infrastructure, but at a lower cost. FreeChoice’s customers also like the fact that they can tailor their features to meet their needs, rather than paying for “packages” when all they want is one or two features, as well as more personalized customer service provided by local call centers.

What are the limitations that are bringing people back to analog? First of all, voice quality can fluctuate widely, even over the same VOIP Adapter with the same service provider. Quality loss can be caused by the amount of other traffic on the line, or how busy the Internet is at the moment. Overall quality can range from “almost as good as analog” to “cell phone in a fringe zone” or even worse.

But quality is not the biggest issue. If your power goes out, your VOIP Telephone Adapter shuts down. When this happens, your VOIP phone is dead. You can’t even call the power company to let them know that your lights are out. In contrast, analog phone service like that offered by FreeChoice is powered through the phone company wiring, where there is emergency power backup located at the local switching center in case of electrical outages.

If your Broadband connection ever fails, your VOIP phone stops working. This can and does happen when your broadband cable or DSL network shuts down for some reason, or it can be caused by a failure in your modem, router or wiring. If VOIP is your only phone connection, you can’t call the cable or DSL provider to find out what’s going on, and you can’t use dial-up to get a temporary Internet connection to report the problem via email.

Finally, people should be aware that VOIP phones behave very differently than analog phones for 911 emergency calls. VOIP companies that offer 911 services route their 911 calls to a Public Safety Access Point, or PSAP, similar to the way those calls are handled from cellular phones, rather than to a local emergency response center. By default, 911 service is de-activated on VOIP phones. It is up to the customer to notify the VOIP provider of their physical location and request activation of 911 service, which generally takes several business days.

The portability of the VOIP Telephone Adapter necessitates such an arrangement. If you are traveling in California with your Adapter, the local emergency response center near your home office in Des Moines can’t respond to your problem, and you’re just wasting their time and yours. If you change the location of your Adapter, you must notify your VOIP service provider to update your 911 PSAP, but again, the change is not immediate, so forget 911 service via VOIP if you plan to travel frequently.

If you plan to make VOIP your only phone platform, or if you care about the sound quality on your phone, you should consider the limitations of VOIP carefully before jumping in.


George Haymaker, III

President and CEO

FreeChoice Communications

San Mateo, California



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