momready archives

Cybermom: VOIP

Posted by Elisa Taub
Cybermom: VOIP

by Elizabeth Rodgers

Cybermom is a regular momready column, where each month Elizabeth Rodgers will write about Lifestyle Technology - technology that goes beyond the personal computer and improves the way you live.Lately you may have read a lot about VOIP which stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol (or Voice Over IP if you want to be cool). What is this VOIP, you ask? Essentially, it's a phone line that works over your fast speed Internet connection (either cable or DSL), instead of a regular (or analog) phone line.

What does VOIP mean for you? It means drastically reducing your telephone bills and in some instances, free international calling. To be clear: you use an existing telephone - the computer does not make the calls for you. (Actually, you can call from your computer, if you want, but more on that later.) My preferred brand is Vonage because I've used them, had relatively few problems and the rates are great. They send you a Vonage adaptor and some cables (and directions). To set it up, you plug the Vonage adaptor into your Internet router as well as the base of your phone. Where else can you call France as part of a flat rate of $25/month?

Can it replace your primary line? Not yet, or at least I wouldn't tell you to start off that way. But it works really well if you:

- make a lot of long distance calls,
- want to call internationally,
- want a 2nd line for your kid or
- want an inexpensive home business/fax line.

A benefit of IP calling is that all the features are included in the $25/monthly fee: voice mail, 3 way calling, call forwarding, call waiting, etc. There are no hidden fees. You can even be alerted by email or text messaged when you get a voice mail.

Even better: when you travel, you can take your phone with you. Say what? Anywhere you have a broadband connection, you can plug in your phone and Vonage adaptor and receive calls on your local number, even if you're in Buenos Aires.

Is it perfect? No. Occasionally, the connection is staticky. And there is always the risk that your internet service could go down and hence, your phone. But for all the features, the cost and the convenience, you can't go wrong. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

And just a quick note on VOIP that makes the call from your computer: there is an exciting new FREE technology called Skype. All you have to do is buy a headset that connects to your computer and you can call anywhere in the world: to land lines and to cell phones for a very small charge and FREE to your friends who are also on Skype.

If you use Skype on a PC, you can even video chat for free. The website leads you through very simple instructions on how to download and use the software. There are currently over 100 million Skype users. Yes, 100 MILLION. I've used it and the connection has been crystal clear. There are no subscription fees or setup fees. It's great for talking to your kid who's away at college or even your tech-savvy father-in-law in Idaho. How wrong can 100 million people be?

Elizabeth Rodgers (along with her husband, Jonathon Fishman) is the founder of Ben's Ranch, a personal and small business technology service company. Elizabeth also writes for television and film.

For more info on Ben's Ranch please visit